Citizen platforms – championing participatory decision-making, institutional transparency and increased social spending – now govern a number of Spain’s major cities including Madrid and Barcelona.
Elections in May 2015 saw victories for Ahora Madrid (Now Madrid) and Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona In Common) – new platforms bringing together existing progressive parties with social movements which emerged after the 2008 financial crisis. Campaigns were crowdfunded and citizens encouraged to take part in neighbourhood assemblies, vote on policy priorities and create crowdsourced manifestos online.
Manuela Carmena, a 71 year-old retired judge who ran as Ahora Madrid’s candidate for Mayor, campaigned to prevent home evictions and freeze the privatisation of public services. Backed by a creative social media presence, she won public support with promises to guarantee electricity and water for low-income households, carry out an audit into the city’s funding and administration, and cut her own salary by more than half.
Ada Colau last year became Barcelona’s first ever female Mayor. An anti-eviction activist who had previously picketed the homes of politicians to raise awareness of Spain’s housing crisis, Colau has pledged to do away with the privileges of elected office (such as official cars and expense budgets), post details of council meetings online for the public to scrutinise, and recover homes repossessed by private banks.
Estonia has pioneered e-democracy in the 21st century – internet voting has been in place since 2005, with around a third of ballots cast online for the 2015 General Elections. In a country with more mobile phone contracts than residents, basic internet access is seen as a human right. A free e-participation tool, TOM, (the acronym for “Today I Decide” in Estonian) is used as a forum for citizens to discuss political issues such as voter registration and allocating municipal budgets, and present collaborative ideas for new laws online, some of which have been adopted by parliament.