Public participation Essay
The end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the new millennium have seen the rapid growth of two undeniably related phenomena. They are the rise of international democracy and the explosion in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). “E-democracy” is the concept widely used and even sometimes misused. Crick (2002:93) defines democracy as the, “polity or political rule [that] strives to balance individual freedom, individual rights, and the common good.
” In this paper I’m going to examine the impact of ICTs on the concept of democracy as presented by Crick. Conditions of modern democracy are the role of individuals, official doctrines, typical social structure, nature of the elite, typical institutions of government, type of economy, theories of property, attitudes to law, diffusion of information, and attitudes to politics. No doubt that ICTs have potential to expand democratic participation. Still the question whether ICTs facilitate and enhance democracy is surrounded by much controversy.
Areas such as e-voting and e-consultation attract great attention of political scientists from over the globe. ICTs provide an excellent opportunity for governments to become more transparent, efficient and accountable. ICTs mean that people are provided greater services and opportunities online, and as a result become more informed, articulate and active in public affairs. Thus, ICTs have a significant potential to widen civic engagement. Much hype surrounds the newly created term “global civil society”.
Norris (2001:6) poses an inevitable and burning question, “Will the Internet have the capacity to revitalize public participation in conventional politics, such as levels of party membership, electoral turnout, or activism in civic and voluntary organizations? ” ICTs may create the possibility of reaching out to publicize political parties, solicit feedback, new ideas, and new members, energize party activists and build leadership cadres. Thus, ICTs may help to promote political pluralism and activism.
Individualism becomes a core value in the ICT-driven society, and the role of an individual is the condition of modern democracy. Also we should keep in mind that e-commerce empowers previously economically disadvantaged strata, and type of economy is one of the conditions of modern democracy. Norris (2001:97) stresses the following fact, “The Internet may broaden involvement in public life by eroding some of the barriers to political participation and civic engagement, especially for many groups currently marginalized from mainstream politics.
” So ICTs provide a perfect opportunity to increase youth participation, enhance women on the political arena, and include marginalized and disadvantaged groups. As Crick (2002:98) argues, “Participation is critical, for moral education and for the implementation of democratic government. ” Still, Leslie David Simon (2002:36) argues that, “Participation fortifies democracies, but it is also a favourite tool of many totalitarian states. ”
But Norris (2001:101) states that, “the new opportunities for civic engagement and political participation on the Internet will serve primarily to benefit those elites with the resources and motivation to take advantage of [them]. ” The nature of the elite is the essential condition of modern democracy, and today we can speak of “information elite” as well as of “information society. ” Transparency of the government, both federal and local, is another possible consequence of democracy.
Crick (2002:103) states that, “Democracies work better (can only work) in an atmosphere of trust. ” Norris (2001:107) states that, “new technologies allow greater transparency in the policy-making process, wider public participation in decision making, and new opportunities for interaction and mobilization in election campaigns, but, critics argue, whether these potentialities are realized. ” Attention to the protection of human rights through the use of new communication technologies is an area of growing interest.
On the other hand, the implementation of more “technological democracy” will exacerbate the existing digital divide present within and between developed and developing countries. The explosive growth of the Internet is exacerbating existing inequalities between the information rich and poor. Also, as Norris argues, a so-called democratic divide is developing between the citizens who do and do not use ICT’s to engage, mobilize and participate in public life. Instead of promoting democracy, ICTs could be manipulated by political parties as tools of propaganda.
With no Internet censorship it is becoming a widespread political phenomenon. Crick (2002:21) defines anarchy as “a central danger of democracy”, and cyber-pessimist perceive Internet as a totally anarchical environment. Leslie David Simon (2002:Front Matter) reminds the reader that, “Today we know that there is another side to the story. Those who hate democratic values and human rights have also learned to use the Internet. In the United States and abroad, neo-Nazis and other hate groups maintain Web-sites… ” Also e-democracy should be seen as enhancing, not replacing traditional forms of government-citizen interaction.
Norris (2001:104) reminds us that ICTs should be used, “to promote and strengthen the core representative institutions connecting citizens and the state. In this regard, opportunities for public participation and civic engagement generated via new technology are important. ” Analysing all the abovementioned, I came to the conclusion that the views expressed by cyber-optimist are more realistic. Personally I believe that ICTs are able and will promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, and attitude to law is one of the important conditions of modern democracy.
ICT’s bring more opportunity and freedom, and these two factors will gradually cause wider adoption and improvement of democratic governance. Certainly, I admit the existence of numerous dangers related to the spread of ICTs, but I believe that the growing political consciousness will prevent further misuse of this powerful tool. Open and transparent government as well as availability and circulation of information can guarantee democracy and participation, and diffusion of information is one of the crucial conditions of modern democracy.
Making a final conclusion I would life to state once more that the rational use of the whole potential of ICTs can facilitate democracies worldwide.
1. Leslie David Simon, Javier Corrales, Donald R. Wolfensberger, Democracy and the Internet: Allies or Adversaries?, Woodrow Wilson Centre Press, 2002 2. Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, 2001 3. Bernard Crick, Democracy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2002