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Favio Saavedra, Dusseldorf, Germany
"It's not the case that people simply don't care."
 real 28k

Robin Smith, London, UK
"We are on a massive sea change."
 real 28k

John Fisher from Citizens Online
"Where is the interactivity?"
 real 28k

Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda
"The internet is not in any way the medium of the masses."
 real 28k

Andrew Stone, Scotland
Maff has no mechanism for feedback or interactivity."
 real 28k

Dom MaCarthy, Brisbane, Australia
"Its nothing short of political wishful thinking to think that the internet will breathe life into post cold-war politics."
 real 28k

Monday, 2 April, 2001, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Can the web save democracy?
Is the internet good for democracy?
General elections in the UK are likely to be called very soon. All political parties are going to be using the internet for campaigning more than ever before.

A report published this week says politicians should use the internet to radically change the way they interact with their electorate, or risk losing touch with them altogether.

During the recent presidential elections in the US candidates used the internet for campaigning and fundraising on an unprecedented scale. Yet, the turnout on voting day remained as low as ever.

So can the internet really transform democracy? Can it re-ignite interest in the political process or is it just a gimmick? Does it exclude those who don't have access to new technologies?

We discussed this topic on our programme "Talking Point on Air". The programme was broadcast by the BBC World Service and webcast by BBC News Online.

Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air

  56k  


This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

  • Read what you have said since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    Your comments since the programme


    All the Internet will do is allow people to voice their complaints more easily

    John-Paul, Fife, Scotland
    Every style of government comes to a natural end at some point. Democracy I assume is no exception. And judging by the comments on this page, all the Internet will do is allow people to voice their complaints more easily. What I wish is that someone would think up a method of government that gives politicians less power over us, since democracy as it stands is not democracy at all. All it gives us is the change to choose, every five years or so, which dictatorship we want.
    John-Paul, Fife, Scotland

    Oh now I see, democracy that has been working perfectly well for thousands of years can only be "saved" by the internet. This is getting pathetic, what can't the internet do! The internet is not the new life but a useful tool to help us enrich lives we already have. Not being connected to the net does not mean that your life will end, I wish people would stop hyping it up and get a life.
    Peter, UK


    We are deluding ourselves if we think the system is working for the man or woman in the street

    Steve Dempsey, UK
    The problem with democracy is disenfranchisement. Even if everyone voted and even if there were enough political parties to afford everyone a choice with which they were happy, they would still have to contend with the lobbying power of business interests - interests which often run contrary to those of the electorate. Anyone who gets elected, gets into bed with business. What chance have we got, either way we are deluding ourselves if we think the system is working for the man or woman in the street.
    Steve Dempsey, UK

    Democracy and the internet should not be just about voting online. It should be about getting the grassroots involved between elections. The net provides the first opportunity to give the masses a direct line to politicians. In that sense, it is the most important aid to democracy invented.
    Mark Flannagan, London, UK

    Democracy has already failed. Workers get one vote per four years. Non-workers get 50 hours a week extra to get involved in protest groups, political parties, letter writing, focus groups and all the other engines of political life.

    It's no surprise that all the political parties now have policies based on the ratings of pressure groups and the greed of benefit claimants rather than looking after the working majority. This will only change when we start showing as much interest in the redistribution of leisure time we have in the redistribution of wealth. (Or possibly give an extra vote to income tax payers as partial recompense for their limited ability to get involved in the political process.).
    Essada, UK

    The Internet is the latest, and most significant, in a stream of mass communications mechanisms. Look at this "Talking Point" forum. No other medium could ever have offered this level of interaction. However, the Internet is simply a means to an end, not the end itself. Anything that extends our ability to communicate our thoughts and ideas to those who govern us is to be praised. But the Internet's greatest ability is to show how futile imposed boundaries are. The world is becoming more homogeneous and this will increasingly make petty local (national) political issues seem unimportant and parochial.
    Martyn Fribbens, England

    Here is a radical thought - the internet could lead to the abolition of political parties, with interested citizens voting directly on all issues of importance. This would solve the current problem whereby a party is voted in and then its members follow their own pet policies, apparently without regard to the electorate's wishes, for the next five years. True democracy.
    Mike Rose, Cambs, UK


    There are now so many of us with conflicting interests

    Steve, UK
    The problem with democracy is widely seen as voter apathy, which is variously attributed to the "it makes no difference" and "too much cynicism/spin amongst politicians" syndromes. But voter apathy is inevitable within stable democracies because significant sectors of the population are generally unaffected by who is in power and politicians "spin" because they have to counteract the vested interests trying to either manipulate them or bring them down. The only reason Labour was elected with a landslide in 1997 was because the Conservatives - the home of the vested interest - had screwed things up so badly.

    The answer? There may not be one because there are now so many of us with conflicting interests, and the internet will only serve to bring this into sharper focus. Why else are the Tories offering tax cuts, a balanced budget and increased public spending? Because they're trying to be all things to all men, and it doesn't work!
    Steve, UK

    It might very well "save democracy," but that would only beg the questions: save it from what? save it for what? And ought it be saved in the first place?
    R. McNaughton Phillips, Seattle, USA

    MP's won't even use electronic voting in the House of Commons. What makes anybody think that they would use it in elections? And if you think that they are going to read e-mailed comments you really are living in cloud cuckoo land.
    Brian W, Chelmsford, U K

    The internet should not be monopolised as a campaigning device for politicians but as a voting device for the electorate. There should be a far greater number of issues decided by referendum and internet voting is the ideal way to facilitate this. However, I do not think even this will increase voter participation in the long-run; the initial novelty of internet voting will soon wear off.
    Chris Wills, London, England

    The Internet is a new medium for communication. We must welcome it rapidly and show the way in using this to carry out elections. An "Internet" vote should be available just like a postal vote. I for one did not vote last time round but would have done if it could be done so easily. I predict in 10 years time this will seem an amazing discussion. The Internet will be in every home and affecting all we do. Lets embrace it rapidly to improve turn out and also automate and speed up the voting process.
    Phil, Newmarket, England

    It is a constant illusion to think that technology can solve deep-seated social problems. In the 19th century people argued that the telegraph will mean and end to International conflict since leaders would be able to communicate in a fraction of a second. The development of democracy depends on the creation of democratic institutions. The Internet could be a useful adjunct to those institutions but the fundamental thing is the creations of the institutions themselves.
    David Pavett, UK

    Some of these people who seem to be bashing democracy, it prompts you to wonder if they have ever lived under any other form of government, or better yet, if they know of a better proven system. The net is useful in carrying the light of freedom to the darkest corners of the globe.
    Michael S., USA


    The petty squabbling of politicians amongst themselves is hardly going to get them any admiration for the 'work' they're doing, least of all votes

    Yuka, England
    I personally doubt that much will change for politics, whether British or American, whether the parties opt for use of internet or not. It is their attitudes and beliefs on certain issues that give them the attention from the population. The petty squabbling of politicians amongst themselves is hardly going to get them any admiration for the 'work' they're doing, least of all votes.
    Yuka, Canterbury, England

    The internet will not revive democracy in this country. The trouble is the way our political masters (so called) behave. Blair has become a Puppet Master - his ministers are tongue-tied until he pulls the strings. But when we get a crisis like Foot and Mouth, he turns his back on it until its to late, then hasn't got the necessary management skills to get anything done quickly. Hague gives the impression he is lacking the same skills.
    Brian Cornwall, England

    The only valid argument I have ever heard against the idea of voting via the internet is that lower-income earners may not have access. This argument is easily addressed. Governments provide voting stations now for everyone. I see no reason why the government cannot provide voting stations equipped with computers for those who do not have home access. The internet can indeed be the 'saviour of democracy', if properly used.
    Kenneth Dove, Calgary, Canada

    The internet may or may not increase voter participation, but if it does, we must remember that this may not necessarily be desirable. The only historical example of an entity that resembles direct democracy, though not universal enfranchisement, was Athens. The lesson that Athens, with its unique historical experience provides, is not that direct democracy is possible, but the consequences of such a system. The democracy of Athens resulted in the imperialistic pride, egoism, and public demagoguery that resulted in the Peloponnesian War. We must remember that that war was a democratic war, one popular and supported by the people in the beginning, and one that ended in Athen's defeat.
    James, USA

    Any additional method of voting would surely be welcome - people would still be able to vote in the conventional way if they wished. Also, while it is true that the majority of the population are ignorant-tabloid-led souls, this is not a reason to deprive those who are interested the opportunity to share their thoughts with the online community. Oh, and for those people without the internet, try visiting you neglected and forgotten local libraries!
    Alan, Bedford, Europe

    It is very unlikely that the 'net' can allow 'democracy' to totally function on its own. First, you have some news services that are nothing more than propaganda machines for unusually wealthy and powerful interests. They decide what is going to be reported as news rather than allowing the element of 'free speech' to reign.
    Secondly, most elections are so controlled now, that who really is the candidate that the people want - is very likely not to be allowed to serve
    Dave Adams, USA

    Politicians are in reality actually redundant with the advent of the internet as this wonderful tool has the power to remove the middleman, i.e.: the politician.
    This message is sent via ham radio using solar power!
    Michael Wilson, Mazatlan Mexico

    Your comments during the programme


    Democracy is good for something, but hopeless in the face of long-term global problems

    N. Khan, UK
    More democracy is the last thing we need. The greatest challenge facing us is the destruction of our environment, a massive problem that cannot be over-stressed. Democracy is entirely inadequate to this problem. It revolves around short-term crowd-pleasing policies that produce rapid tangible results that help ensure incumbent politicians are re-elected. Much of the electorate is far more concerned with immediate returns than with long-term solution to this escalating global catastrophe. Democracy is good for something, but hopeless in the face of long-term global problems
    N. Khan, UK

    Before the internet can be used in a big way to promote democracy there has to be a method in place to process the information that will be available to the members of the government through the internet. This issue needs to be addressed whether the medium is internet or message boxes. Without this internet cannot go to far in promoting democracy.
    Makesh Kothandaraman, USA

    In the developed countries, yes. But in the third world countries, I totally disagree. We all know the problems in third world countries, like in Africa. How do you expect an average African looking for how to get a meal, to think of checking the internet for democratic or political issues? Also, the internet accessibility is a big problem in these countries. How many people can afford the internet in Africa?
    Ibrahim, Nigerian in India


    Its main advantage is that it can provide a truly international forum for opinion

    Stewart Nestel, Australia
    Yes the internet is great but there is a long way to go before it can be used for domestic political purposes. Its main advantage is that it can provide a truly international forum for opinion.
    Stewart Nestel, Australia

    As a former resident in Scotland, and being now resident within Western Australia the Internet offers the opportunity for the masses to have a valid viewpoint on the directions our politicians should be directed and also presently take. The standard of politicians as seen in Australia is of a lesser or narrower political wave length/vision or quite comprehending the directions of the 21st century.
    Tom Gibb, Perth, Australia

    The internet should be a freely accessible public repository for the information that governments traditionally withhold. e.g. environmental data, public sector inefficiency , corruption , human rights violations etc .
    KMCD Dublin, Ireland

    Universal access to internet is not possible without the necessary telecommunications infrastructure such as phone lines, hardware, knowledge and ability to make use of internet etc., Availability of phones in India is so limited that universal access to internet is a long way off.
    Mohansingh, India


    If the public had access and some control it could cancel out a lot of the rhetoric and propaganda.

    Catherine, Cirencester, UK
    The point of enabling democracy online would be to give citizens ownership of policy decisions both locally and nationally. Their involvement would cancel out the spin which is currently overshadowing the real government. The spin is produced by both the media and inside the government but if the public had access and some control it could cancel out a lot of the rhetoric and propaganda.
    Catherine, Cirencester, UK

    If real time graphs were available this would lead to more precise tactical voting. This would result in negative voting, and as such negative campaigning. There would be an even larger shift from policy to personality.
    Tucky, London, UK

    As long as BT retains its near monopoly on telecommunications in this country, Britain will lag behind the rest of the world in bringing the internet to its people. And as long as this is the case, internet voting will only increase the power of the upper classes and reduce the voice of the less fortunate.
    Duncan Armstrong, Edinburgh, Scotland

    The internet will, in my point of view, create a major democratisation of our society not because, but against the will of our politicians. There is a German political site www.dol2day.de (meaning "democracy online today") where your political point of view can be heard easier than in the media that are one-sided. the majority of money. This is the sense of democracy: The more decide, the better the decision.
    Johannes Sondermann, Berlin, Germany


    Look at the problems the Americans had with 'chads' - and that was punching a hole in a bit of paper!

    Ian, UK
    I think Internet voting would make people keener to cast votes. If real time graphs were introduced so people could see which party was in the lead, they could decide whether their vote would make a difference. However, until the whole country is computer literate there is no point in having such a system that people may not be able to use. Look at the problems the Americans had with 'chads' - and that was punching a hole in a bit of paper!
    Ian, UK

    Most of what I saw on the internet was either very anti-Clinton rhetoric or else Clintonites firing back with anti-Bush statements. Notice how children on a playground who get in such an argument drive others away in disgust? I think the internet assisted in lowering voter turnout here.
    Mike Flaugher, USA

    How can the web promote genuine democracy when so many people do not have access to it?
    Garth, Harare, Zimbabwe

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    The Internet is a very powerful medium to interact with its users and it changes the way we communicate with one another. It is still an elite medium for many of the world. But I don't think it can change our thinking /thought patterns. Political parties can interact with voters and make the Net a propaganda tool. In this information era those leaders who use the medium to persuade the voters can also become victims. All over the world the masses have lost faith in their leaders and, I think, in the days and years to come the percentage of those who cast their votes will plummet to a great extent. No electronic medium or cyber medium is powerful in changing it.
    Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda

    I say keep politicians off the internet as we already have enough desperate old men in our chat-rooms already!
    Jeff Scholey, UK


    There would be no need for political parties

    Richard Daish, St Albans England
    We have the technology to be able to vote, individually, for or against any policy which any person could propose. All that is needed is an independent moderating committee who would decide which proposals were worthy of merit, and put them to the vote of all the people. An enabling legislature would draft, check, and verify all such laws before implementation. It would not have the right to create law in itself, but no law could be passed which would be contrary to common law. There would be no need for political parties.
    Richard Daish, St Albans England

    Talking Point is proof of how much easier it is to get our views aired on the Internet but it can never be called "democracy" until everyone has access - and that will never happen. And as party political broadcasts are hardly the most popular programmes on TV, very few people would actively seek out political web sites to read their propaganda.
    Gill, UK

    The Net could be the means of restoring democracy. It is a fallacy to suggest we still have it. People such as myself find it almost impossible to put our views to the general public. The media has its own various means of censorship. MPs seldom reply to my letters. I am lucky to get an acknowledgement. There is little to choose between the main parties. I suspect that because of this there will again be a poor turn-out at the next election. The Net gives us all a chance to have our say, not just the privileged few. Although the "few" will do their utmost under various pretexts to exclude Joe Public.
    GJ, Birmingham, UK

    Within the current political system the internet could be best used to make all governmental reports and communications available for all to see. Let us have access to the numbers so we can make up our own minds on whether the politicians have the voters' interests at heart. Of course, ironically, this would change the nature of the political system. The problems societies face in how they govern themselves require far more revolutionary changes then plugging a few computers into the issues.
    Sam Gibson, Aberdeen, UK


    The Government might even be more accountable

    Phil W, UK
    I would like to see all the major parties submit their costed election "business plans" on the web, with names and areas of responsibility, so the people can print out (in the public domain), what the Government said they would do, and see if they kept their election promises! The Government might even be more accountable then!!
    Phil W, UK

    More and more people are using the internet and politicians would be foolish not to take advantage of chat-rooms and so on, but democracy is alive and well. I don't think the 'net will help or hurt voter turnout. Low turnout in last year's election was because both candidates ran uninspiring campaigns.
    Jeff, USA

    I don't think the internet is the right sort of tool to promote politics. It is just too slow compared to TV or Radio and I don't have the patience to wait for a download to complete.
    Narinder Dogra, USA

    You can not believe everything you read on the internet since any person can write and post anything regardless of whether it is true or not. There is too much information but how can you make sure you are getting the right stuff? There is a lot of misinformation and people must be aware of it.
    Teshome H, Canada/ Markham

    The net has the potential to massively improve local government as the old system of visiting your councillor is dead to the majority of us. E-mail contact with well-publicised local government web pages could re-ignite the process of devolved local power. If I knew my councillor's email address today, I would be immediately lobbying for that pavement to be fixed and door-to-door recycling.
    Simon Groom, Birmingham


    How many more contemporary problems are to be solved by the net?

    Tridiv, Germany/India
    The web saving democracy? How many more contemporary problems are to be solved by the net? Economic, cultural, social, historical? Give me a break from this tech-hype. When I think of India (ahead of many nations in IT) and "internet democracy", it's laughable. Internet is not a panacea.
    Tridiv, Germany/India

    It will work for a while, because it will reduce people's frustrations, however over a longer period we will probably end up at square one, once individuals realise that nothing has really changed.
    Zafar, London, England

    I think it is a bad thing as politicians are already manipulating media enough. Politicians have been banned from voting in the Today programme polls because they rig it. Certainly Millbank's New Labour spin doctors are on the ball with the internet. It was amazing how just as yesterday's 'Talking Point' was published concerning whether to postpone the election or not, several respondents issued robust pieces on how great the government was and that they should not be forced off early re-election by a cynical Conservative party! Looking again just now, the balance seems to have been redressed, but funny how the pro-Labour guys always seem to get in there first!
    Stephen Warner, UK

    Using popular media is the best source for getting your political ideas across, and "influencing" the electorate. The internet is just one form of many for distributing these ideas.
    Paul McPartland, Liverpool, England


    To get people really involved, you have to make them cross

    Allison Bucknell, Lyneham, England
    At the moment, we are bombarded with attempts at Local Democracy from all angles. This is being "pushed" at as. On the Internet, we have to "pull" that information, which means going looking for it. So, if we don't respond to what we already have, are we really going to seek it out? I think not. To get people really involved, you have to make them cross...any ideas?
    Allison Bucknell, Lyneham, England

    Using the Internet to vote on issues rather than parties would produce a real democracy. As things stand, if you want, say, both to lower taxation and to ban foxhunting, you would have to vote both Conservative and Labour. While democracy remains based on parties, the internet will serve only as another tool for self-seeking politicians to misinform the rest of us.
    Nigel Rees, Milford, CT, USA (Briton)

    Internet voting can't solve the main problem of voter apathy. At present there is very little difference between the mainstream parties on most issues - and under the present system they are the only ones likely to be elected. For example which party is reflecting the widespread desire for a renationalisation of Railtrack? Offer me a real choice to vote for and I will vote.
    Eileen, UK

    I don't think the web will make much difference. What is needed is compulsory voting, with the last choice called "None of the above". If "None of the above" wins, the election is rerun with new candidates - i.e., none of the above.
    Clive Mitchell, Cardiff, UK


    Why should a cultural majority be able to impose its norms on minorities?

    Christopher Newcombe, Berlin, Germany
    The web is a great way for people to participate in debate and make their views known to governments. One major problem, however, is access, both in terms of infrastructure and censorship. More seriously, who says governments will listen? For that matter, how much real power do governments have, faced with global corporations and markets? Perhaps the best contribution the internet can make is to enable people to link up their struggles for human freedom. Finally, one person, one vote is not always best. Why should a cultural majority be able to impose its norms on minorities?
    Christopher Newcombe, Berlin, Germany, EU

    The Internet is immediate, multi-way mingled broadcasting. No other communications medium in history has provided that. It fully amazes me the possibilities of Internet communication. On the one hand critics say that ordinary people cannot govern themselves - personally, I don't believe it, and I don't believe there has ever been an experiment to test the hypothesis. My favourite example of democracy is not one of representative democracy, but of participative democracy, from ancient Athens. If it were possible for us to remove the elite-speak from politics and explore how to make it possible to involve people in decisions that affect them, and for people to make suggestions and policy decisions, I believe we would be taking an admirable step in ethical and sensible new millennium politics.
    Tom Kane, Edinburgh, Scotland


    Both the public and the politicians have a lot to learn before its full potential can be realised

    Andrew Stone, Glasgow
    The widespread use of the Internet has profound implications for politics. It's major role is not so much in providing accessibility, as giving easy access to vast sources of information which can be used to question and refute the bland statements made in 'sound-bite' politics. Modern politicians are more concerned with presenting the right image and 'sound-bite' to the public than with informing the public. In fact, if the recent US election campaign is anything to go by, candidates even conspire to make sure real facts never get to the public. Other aspects that must be taken into account when addressing the issue of 'Internet Politics' is that many members of the house are unfamiliar with the Internet Message Board community and the form of debate that takes place. Something like 15% of members don't have email addresses and not a single member of parliament, as far as I know, has a Public PGP key available to ensure the security of emails. In time the Internet will revolutionise politics. However both the public and the politicians have a lot to learn before its full potential can be realised.
    Andrew Stone, Glasgow

    Students of comparative government and politics should recognise the Internet as a candidate to deliver 'direct democracy'. A classic example of direct democracy is the ancient city/state of Athens (c. 400 BC). However, I can't see modern day citizens having enough interest in governance when there's the shopping to do and the bills to pay, etc. While the internet certainly solves some communications problems, perhaps it is a little to early to attempt squeezing it in the role of assisting democracy without some serious attention to consequential effects. Does anyone know any 2400 year old Athenians?
    Clive Hudson, UK

    The net is a fantastic way of holding MPs accountable. I had never seen my MPs entry in the register of members interests until I saw it posted on the web. We live in a democracy and the web helps people to make an informed vote.
    Graham Miller, London, Europe

    Politicians have secretaries and answering machines to take calls they don't want to listen to, pre-printed replies for snail-mail they don't want to read and, probably, genetically engineered hearing to ignore people they don't want to hear. In computer terms, they are an output-only device with a limited I/O attachment that does not allow for any feedback. At least an email-bot should be cheaper on their pocket books.
    Mike, USA (British)


    The problem for online democracy is shifting the gold from the chaff

    Tom Dunmore, Brighton, UK
    The problem for online democracy is shifting the gold from the chaff; no politician is brave enough to say it, but most of the British electorate is far too ignorant and ill informed (due to poor education) to make informed decisions and contributions. Thus, before broad democracy (in the true sense of the word, power of the people) is really tenable, people must be better educated. At least now we have the technology to make such a national forum a possibility, but it is only the first step.
    Tom Dunmore, Brighton, UK

    The Internet could be a marvellous medium for debating the issues of the day and reading the barometer of public opinion, and internet voting must be an obvious way to go. However, cynics might say with some justification that the Internet is just another communications medium to be ignored by governments. A recent example of this would be the 'Number 10' message board being closed because of so much adverse comment about IR35, amongst other things.
    Richard Gray, Warrington, UK

    The internet has a part to play but this misses the big point. The reason voters are switching off in huge numbers is because we simply don't believe and don't trust politicians anymore. We think they are corrupt and have their own agendas which they never reveal before an election. Less than 20% of major social legislation passed by UK government is ever foreshadowed in any election manifesto by any party. Most of the 'hidden agenda' legislation is controversial and tends to strengthen state power over the citizen. Unless there is a root and branch reform of our system of government, the politicians will continue to destroy democracy - the very thing they falsely claim to be upholding.
    Chris Millbank, London, UK


    For politicians it will become yet another publicity battleground

    R. Davies, Newport, UK
    In theory, the internet is the tool of liberty and empowerment for the average person. However just as we have seen the dot.com industry gradually become swallowed by monopolies, for politicians it will become yet another publicity battleground upon which they will have to fight rather than a means of political education.
    R. Davies, Newport, UK

    Throwing technology at the problem of apathy will not work.
    RAH, UK

    The internet offers an unprecedented opportunity for organising and information dissemination, but the real problems with modern democracy, especially in the US, lie in the political structure itself. Participation has largely been replaced by a passive acceptance of two-party dominance. The internet can be a tool of change, but it is not the only solution necessary.
    Joshua Hogan, Jefferson City, TN, USA

    The internet is used by a very unrepresentative group of people. On the one hand they are probably relatively well informed, and thinking. On the other they are also relatively wealthy and doing well out of the status quo. The people who really have problems are the ones whom the politicians ought to be listening to more. They are certainly not well represented on the internet.
    Tom Smith, Basel, Switzerland


    The use of the internet can be a significant advantage for smaller parties

    Finbarr, Boston, USA
    The use of the internet can be a significant advantage for smaller parties, providing a low cost alternative to billboards and telephone banking to get their message out - and in this way is a boon to democracy. Problems remain in terms of the democratic nature of the state, how the parties choose their candidates etc. With internet penetration at around 20% in the UK there may be no bias issue, but I suspect that the online population is also the voting population, further entrenching patterns of apathy among the electorate.
    Finbarr, Boston, USA

    New technology has played a role in democracy at least in the Philippines. SMS (short message text) via mobile phones has been so popular among the many NGO leaders that it was used to organise democratic campaigns to bring down the corrupt Estrada government in the so called non-violent People's Power II. Internet, as a "new" technology, has the same power, but it depends on how it is used by the public sector to ensure a democratic transformation in the UK.
    David Lin, London, UK

    It seem as thought most UK party web-sites are either so obsessed with spin and style they forget about content or they forget about the rest of the public and are hideously introspective. As such the sites reflect the personalities of the parties!
    James Kenyon, UK

    Online democracy often creates problems of representation. Some responses to online polls and forums can be co-ordinated by political parties to present a distorted picture. It is not a new phenomena as TV audiences for political programmes and radio polls have suffered from this kind of fixing for far longer. However being able to access such resources as the list of all official UK parties via the internet is valuable.
    Guy Robinson, Aylesbury, UK

    The internet is a fantastic tool, however many citizens do not have adequate access to it. The internet needs to be fast and inexpensive, and for all. It would help too if politicians didn't have such an ignorance to this new tool. Change, and change now! The sooner everyone has fast reliable access, the sooner great things can happen.
    Kai Hendry, Bodmin, Cornwall, UK

    I think in theory it would be a great idea to have a forum where policies and can be explained and debated in a more direct manner between government and the online public without the filtering and manipulation of the mainstream media. However in practice this kind of forum would rapidly descend into chaos or be so heavily censored it would cease to be realistic expression of the views of participators.
    Henry, UK

    When will people realise that the internet isn't the answer to everything.
    Jon, Chelmsford, UK


    It makes no difference whichever party is in power

    David, UK
    The reason I don't vote is not that its inconvenient to go to a polling station but that it makes no difference whichever party is in power. Hence making it even easier for me to vote via the Internet will not make be anymore inclined to vote.
    David, UK

    The biggest concerns for me regarding online voting revolve around security. No matter what anyone says, computers are not the best means for secret voting. Why? Because your computer has a unique I.P. address which can be traced - which means someone can find out how you've voted. A "virtual" ballot box would also be less secure than the current system, because hackers are always one step ahead of computer security personnel (take it from me, I work in computer security!), making it a realistic possibility that an e-election could be severely compromised.
    Vince, UK

    Regarding Paul MK's remarks ! Firstly there will never be universal net access and it will never be secure. Secondly, the suggestion that people should sit an exam before being allowed to vote is incredible. Perhaps he would like to see voters restricted to white, degree educated, middle Englanders.
    Denny, Belfast

    Most democracies are in some kind of transition. Many people inside and outside politics agree that the old institutions and cultures no longer work. Interactive media like interactive television and Internet offer an opportunity to play "a part" in the modernisation of democracy.
    Steven Lenos, Amsterdam

    Rather than transfer the current system to the internet, I think the following changes would engage the public more: 1. Make voting compulsory, and add a "none of the above" box to all ballot forms. This allows those who do not currently vote because they don't like politicians to be counted, and would inject a healthy dose of realism into politics. 2. Abolish the Lords and replace it with a chamber of the people, selected along the same lines as jury service. 3. Install PR in Westminster, so that those with minority views don't feel constantly excluded. 4. Allow postal and internet votes for those who can't come to polling stations, and keep those stations open for as long as it takes to reach a pre-determined proportion of the electorate, say 80%. (That might also decrease the frantic media interest - if an election takes a fortnight, fine - at least the people are having their say. If it means the pundits don't get to have theirs, maybe elections will be less of a turn-off.)
    Julian, Wiltshire UK


    True power is in people's wallets

    Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

    People are fed up with traditional governments - I know that I certainly am! Democracy to me is something I exercise every day when I use my credit-card, sign a cheque, decide which airline to fly with, which newspaper to read, or which TV channel to watch. These are the real choices that we make - and they are now far more important than the self-important posturing of politicians who only know how to "spin" things! True power is in people's wallets, and in their TV remote-controls, not in Westminster.
    Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

    If politicians use the net simply as another medium to broadcast their propaganda then the net will do nothing to save democracy. If it is used to facilitate debate, and the results of those debates are not ignored then it could do much to enfranchise the populace, and hopefully usher in an era of more consensual decision making.
    S Allison, London, UK

    Its hard enough motivating most people to vote at general elections once every four years. An internet voting system where people voted on every issue would result in the tiny minority who have an interest in politics wielding far more power than they deserve. Government policy is already mainly determined by pressure groups, giving them more influence would damage democracy still further. As P O'Rourke said of politics "The last one to fall asleep gets to spend all the money!"
    Will, UK

    It will do nothing but create a platform for the single issue moaners; leading to politics becoming increasingly shallow and short-termist. Bring back the thinking process, please.
    Gerry, Glasgow, Scotland

    It has been suggested that regular users of the internet are already the mainstream voters who turn out in a democratic election. Those who abstain from the process are typically lower income families who won't have access to the internet and its communicative properties. However this is not to negate the influence of on line campaigning as more and more of the active electorate are confined to their offices for longer and less likely to catch those riveting party political broadcasts!
    Rebecca Southwell, UK

    The Internet is more than just a communication tool. It is interactive, and is the first global discussion forum. Politicians need to ensure the Internet's freedom (of speech and money - BT). Otherwise it will go from being a democratic force to being another shopping mall.
    Tom Chance, Bedford, UK

    At present there are very serious problems with computerised voting systems which have yet to be resolved, namely the fact that it is impossible to ensure both that the election is fair (and prevent people from voting multiple times) and that votes cannot be traced back to the people who made them. Until some progress is made in this respect it will be impossible to hold fair elections via the internet. However, the internet is still a very useful tool for campaigning and for political discussion in general.
    Mike Stevens, Cambridge, UK


    Let's keep the politicians off of our VDU's please

    David Coe, Netherlands (ex-pat)
    Ah sweet democracy! Enlightened politicians reaching out to the electorate, and the masses responding - come on! Wake up! This is another cheap gimmick with more serious overtones, will a disgruntled voter who sends his MP an angry e-mail find himself under surveillance as a "potential risk" - let's keep the politicians off of our VDU's please.
    David Coe, Netherlands (ex-pat)

    This is just another gimmick. How exactly is it proposed that the computer-illiterate masses use this for anything other than having the latest party propaganda delivered right into their homes? To the uninitiated the concept of digital signatures is either too advanced to use or too easy for the unscrupulous to hack.
    John B, UK

    It's glorious wishful thinking on behalf of mainstream political politicians to think the internet will breathe life into post cold-war politics. To stimulate popular interest in politics you need big bold competing ideas and a positive vision for the future. Providing a slick web site to re-engage a disillusioned electorate without any of the aforementioned ingredients just shows how out of touch politicians are with what democracy is all about.
    D McCarthy, Brisbane, Australia

    However helpful the internet may become as a tool in forwarding democracy, it is no substitute for solid democratic structures - such that we seem to be losing in the UK. Increasingly the Executive is becoming less and less accountable to Parliament, and increasingly laws are being made by so called "secondary" legislation, and directives - in reality, ministerial dictat. Unless these abuses are directly challenged and changed, all the on-line discussion in the world is so much hot air - or worse still, populism to be fashioned into what ever spin government and media want to put on it all.
    Anthony O'Sullivan, Durham, UK.

    I think that in principle, Internet voting and participation is a terrific idea, which has the potential to rescue the political process from the morass of popular indifference into which it has fallen. You only have to look at any Internet discussion group to see how lively and involved people can be when there is a forum which allows free exchanges of views.

    If this liveliness and involvement could be harnessed, it could go a long way to ensure that people once more feel that their vote really does count. However, while I feel very strongly this is the way forward, I also feel that we must be cautious. First of all, there is the problem of disenfranchisement. Many people do not have access to the internet, and so could not take part in on-line discussion. I am reminded of the early use of telephone polling to predict the outcome of US elections, where the poll predicted an overwhelming victory by one side, only to be proved wrong on the day - the ownership of a telephone was itself a biasing effect on the poll, in the days before almost universal telephone use. At present, the same would apply to the Internet - it is not a universal resource.
    Paul Cooper, Cambridge, UK

    The Internet will not stop the MPs from producing spin, it merely means that the spin will come directly from them rather than through the media. What is needed is some sort of requirement on politicians to explain themselves to the public, but I can't imagine this will ever happen. It will be interesting to see if the parties resort to spin at the long-awaited Euro referendum, I think the public will not stand for it because we are not really able to make an informed decision on Europe until we are given the information on both sides to make a choice. In other words politicians need to respect our intelligence instead of treating the electorate as stupid.
    Alex Bowyer, English, living in Australia

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. You can tell a geek of your web site, but you can't make him link. Transform Democracy? No way. As proof: in the USA, said to be the most internet wired nation in the world, two Presidential candidates in the 2000 election were widely reported to have by far the best, most progressive, high tech web sites, the candidates were John McCain and Bill Bradley. The two candidates who were soundly defeated in the primaries by their Internet inferiors, Al Gore and George W. Bush! The Internet is just another tool, one of many media tools.
    Stephen Kenney, USA

    The internet can leverage the effectiveness of the parties communications, but it can't re-ignite a spark on it's own because the current political apathy amongst the electorate seems to be born of a feeling that there's little point in taking an interest - all parties seem to be as corrupt, unanswerable and self serving as each other. Each one seems unable make a positive difference for individuals without either completely messing up some other aspect of their life, or without exploiting some sector which can't do anything about it.
    Eric, Aberdeen, Scotland

    One would (naively?) hope that some day members of parliaments in democratic countries world wide will represent only the electorate and not the political parties. Engaging the Internet in the political process could be one of the steps in such a democratic transformation. The question is, will the parties succeed to continue to monopolise the political representation? Will they succeed in preventing the information revolution from transforming itself into democratic revolution? We shall see.
    Marek Maryanski, Guilford, CT, USA

    Regardless of whether the web the can help democracy or not, the real truth of why people seem to turn away from politics, is that there is no clear divide between the political parties.
    Adam Badi, London, UK

    We will ultimately be pushed toward online voting, the counting of which will be impossible for the electorate to verify. Beware!
    Basil Jackson, London, UK

    It seems to me that politicians are interested in votes and subsequently, power. Not people and issues. I believe that the internet could be useful for voting in issues. The local MP could then use those votes to know which way to cast his/her vote in parliament After all, they are there to serve and not to dictate.
    Peter Morris, Christchurch, New Zealand

    Ultimately, we could take democracy to its final stage. Let the politicians craft the legislation, but allow the public to vote on it over the Internet. That would really be "power to the people".
    Ed Bayley, USA (English)

    Internet communication strips away the advantages provided by a loud voice, bullying manner, or charismatic personality. In this respect it provides a means of expression for those who would otherwise be ignored or shouted down.
    Richard Stuart, Perth, Australia

    We have to remember that Internet usage is still largely dominated by middle and upper class males. One could hardly argue that this dominance by a particular group is democratic. Indeed rather than saving democracy, the internet may actually be undermining it.
    Richard Street, UK


    The notion that the web was a major part of the last US election is mainly hype

    Jon Livesey, USA
    Ultimately, democracy consists of citizens putting ballots in boxes. If someone can't be bothered to walk down to the local school to do that once every five years, then it's unlikely that the web will motivate them. The web will really only help the politics anoraks who drone on about politics all the time. The web just gives them a bigger audience. The notion that the web was a major part of the last US election is mainly hype. Most people watched the candidates on TV, as they have always done.
    jon livesey, USA

    Students of comparative government and politics should recognise the Internet as a candidate to deliver "direct democracy". A classic example of direct democracy is the ancient city/state of Athens (c. 400 BC). However, I can't see modern day citizens having enough interest in governance when there's the shopping to do and the bills to pay, etc. While the Internet certainly solves some communications problems, perhaps it is a little too early to attempt squeezing it in to the role of assisting democracy without some serious attention to consequential effects. Does anyone know any 2400 year old Athenians?
    Clive Hudson, UK


    Making political processes available online will pave the way to real democracy

    Findarato, London, UK
    Making political processes available online will pave the way to real democracy. It will provide the people with a simple and direct mechanism for voicing their choices and opinions. Imagine being able to vote online, not just for major elections, but for all important issues that current population distribution does not allow for.
    Findarato, London, UK

    It's just a gimmick. Technology cannot change human nature which is central to the issues of voting, civic participation and duty in general. The internet will make it easier for those who wanted to vote in the first place, but does not change the minds of those who have already decided not to participate for whatever reason such as personal ideology or the loss of faith in the governmental institutions that he or she is asked to participate in.
    Vince, Chicago, USA

    I agree with Peter, the internet is only another communication tool. TV was, in many ways, supposed to do all the wonderful things that so many claim for the internet.
    David, Canada

    Political usage of the internet in broad terms should be welcomed, as it offers a more immediate alternative to "lobbying" by sending a simple email, or posting a question etc. It offers truly global accountability by which Russian Presidents can be interviewed by people in another time zone, or our own leaders can be held to account over an issue of the day (or indeed the hour). BUT, what happens to those for whom e-vailability is an issue - for example the tenants of social landlords who live in areas where network providers chose not to invest - because of poor credit scores, or years of neglect and decline? If our Government is to continue to be truly democratic, then we must not allow the digital divide to disenfranchise ANY section of the populace.
    Pete Daw, Bristol, UK


    One person, one vote is the best solution anyone's come up with so far

    Jonathan Walls, London, UK
    I feel Paul from MK is forgetting that democracy is the worst form of government, with the exception of everything else. While it would be nice if every vote were to be an informed, rational decision, to give a body of people the ability to refuse the vote to an individual would almost certainly result in abuse. Besides, I'm sure we've all had discussions where the other person, for all their knowledge, appears to be incapable of coming to a valid conclusion (i.e. they disagree with me). One person, one vote is the best solution anyone's come up with so far - the system of government is the place to put in safeguards for rational decisions.
    Jonathan Walls, London, UK

    Theoretically once universal access to the internet is secured it could become a useful tool. I would like voters to pass a basic exam on the subject in question to ensure an informed electorate.
    Paul, MK, England

    It seems as though anything can be wrapped in a veil of magic by being done on the internet. It is merely another communication tool: the basic democratic processes and problems would remain. What politicians need to do is convince people that they actually care about helping them and the nation and are not, in fact, just interested in gaining power and advancing their careers.
    Peter Smith, London, UK

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    19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
    Only the net can save politics
    23 Jan 01 | Business
    Bridging the digital divide
    17 Mar 01 | South Asia
    End digital divide, says Kofi Annan
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    The dangers of digital democracy
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