Challenge and promise of e-democracy

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  • Published 20050304
  • ISBN: 9780733313868
  • Extent: 268 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

IN MAY 2001, Mark Latham, then a Labor backbencher in the Commonwealth House of Representatives, set up a website for his Werriwa constituents that he said was the first example of internet-based direct democracy. Latham argued that Australian politics was so dominated by secretive, powerful elites that it was effectively “broken”. He was, therefore, seeking a way “of restoring the public’s faith in democracy”. His “contract” with his Werriwa constituents was to post questions upon which they could vote by email, with the understanding that he would act on the majority view. Latham promised to advance the electorate’s decision in Commonwealth parliamentary debates, in the Labor Caucus and in the media. He also undertook to publish all actions and results on the site to ensure his accountability. This would be, he claimed, real democracy in action, the triumph of the people’s will and a “logical consequence of Information Age politics”.

The experiment was Latham’s response to the radical challenge of e-democracy. Advocates of e-democracy argue that modern communication technologies may profoundly affect political processes and policies by making our institutions more “democratic.” Over the past decade, e-democracy websites have popped up all over the world to explore and exploit this assumed potential.

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