Archive for April, 2010

How Demoex took the seat

April 28, 2010

In the middle of the summer 2002 we met at my house to plan the election campaign. I had arranged black t-shirts with our modernist red-black-white logo printed on the chest. We put the t-shirts on and felt the radical potential.

The wish to change the political system gave us energy to do a lot of voluntary work. It wouldn’t be easy to get people to vote for a party without promises, but on the other hand Vallentuna was not so great. To convince two hundred people might be enough. We decided to borrow a camping car and travel around with a mobile campaign.


Two days after our meeting the largest morning newspaper in the country Dagens Nyheter, had an article on Demoex at the editorial page. The article obtained us as radical visionaries, but it also showed that we did not want to make a revolution, but only had a very great faith in democracy.

We felt like a bunch of hippies. The last weekend before the election day, we went around with the camping car, singing songs and handing out leaflets. We wrapped the van in a large black velvet cloth and attached a homemade sign at one side with tape and safety pins only. Traffic Safety Administration would have disapproved the decor. On a straight road the sign flew off, but fortunately the motorcyclist after us swerved and thus avoided a disaster.


After handing out the last flyers on the election day we met up in Vallentuna Theater. We followed the counting of votes on TV, and sent a courier in a regular interval for the Municipal Hall across the square to check out the latest result. After a couple of constituencies it looked nice, but when ten out of twelve were counted, we did not seem to get into. At last the tension became unbearable and we all ran over to the Municipal Hall.

The local newspaper reporter stood with a camera around his neck. He said that we needed ninety more votes to enter. At the very same moment the municipal secretary came out with the result from the last ward. Bad news. We got unexpectedly few votes from the largest district. The journalist said blankly “Then you did not enter”. After ten shocking seconds my cell phone rang. The national newspaper wanted a quick comment, they had read on the Internet that Demoex took a seat.


I do not remember what I said, I almost start to boil from inside when I recall the feeling. We ran out of the square, screaming like savages. The reporters picture of us ended up at the front of the local newspaper. I am the second person from right. My beloved students look happy and cheerful, but I seem gone completely.

The Degree of Democracy

April 27, 2010

What does it mean that one system is more democratic than another? When we have fulfilled all the necessary conditions – like freedom of speech, independent media, functioning judiciary etc – what does it mean to rise the Degree of Democracy? We made a simplified measure.

We defined the Degree of Democracy as the number of democratic decisions per inhabitant yearly. In our municipality Vallentuna almost 20,000 people vote in the local election every fourth year. Further the 41 elected representatives of the municipal council votes an about 100 times per year in various issues. Together it is about 9,000 votes in a year. Since we are 27,000 people in Vallentuna it becomes 0.33 votes per inhabitant yearly.

Demoex can double the Degree of Democracy if we assume that 60 issues per year goes for the Internet voting and 150 people votes online in each case. Then we have further 9,000 votes per year, which means 0.66 votes per inhabitant yearly.


We use our simplified measure of the Degree of Democracy to show if democracy is increasing or decreasing if the necessary conditions remain the same, but it says nothing about the desirable Degree of Democracy. As society looks like, we strive to increase the degree, but we are fully aware that excessive democracy can lead to frustration and inefficiency.

A cheap brochure and a bike

April 25, 2010

To reach out with information that Demoex exists we used the old printing technology and made a cheap A4 brochure entitled “Demoex set up in the local elections.”

We explained that Demoex is a forum for direct democracy on the Internet where you can debate and vote on City Council issues. The core of Demoex is a website where you can vote, propose motions and to argue for or against various proposals.

The difference between ordinary parties and Demoex is that there is no party line. We represent members’ votes statistically. If the association has five seats and 60% voting in favor of a proposal, it will be three seats for the proposal.

We also wrote that many are skeptical of new ideas, but that Demoex is not really a new idea. It injects direct democracy to our current political system. The Athenian Assembly began with direct democracy 2400 years ago.

Representative democracy became a practical solution where long distances made it hard for people to meet. Now the distances have shrunk again thanks to the Internet, so direct democracy is again possible, we wrote.


My good friend Einar worked temporarily as a bicycle mail carrier. He rode around and put the brochure in 5000 local mailboxes. He did the greatest job and Demoex cannot thank him enough!

Technology and democracy

April 23, 2010

“I do not believe in democracy’s ability to bless the people, at least the kind of democracy that is the case here. Quite soon it will probably lead to mass violence.”

The quotation is from the Swedish Government voting rights debate in 1918 where the former Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarsköld and several others expressed their disbelief for the future democratization. The Swedish contemporary historian Lars Ilshammar means that it has always been problematic to increase democracy, because in every time there are some policy makers who jealously guard their prerogatives and feel threatened by the crowd.

Opposition to democracy in the early 1900’s was not only directed against the idea of universal suffrage, but also to contemporary media, which contributed to democratization. Ilshammar writes that democracy grows interactive with the new technology. Camera, car, electricity, telegraph, telephone, and eventually radio and television was new, effective tool for citizens’ involvement in political parties and popular movements. Progress of industrialization in the 1800’s formed the basis for the growth of democracy. The history of democracy is intimately interwoven with technology, according to Ilshammar.

Today the IT community meets a similar resistance. Internet’s rapid development has provided new ideas for a more transparent, interactive and direct form of democracy. Our time has many bearings on the early 1900’s when the new technological innovations were at the heart of man’s hopes and fears. This time it is the Internet which threatens society’s power structures. IT means increased access to knowledge and information, which makes democratization of political power possible. Many studies show that people concern about their declining ability to influence political decisions. When the gap between technical possibilities and political influence increases, so the discontent grows.

The Constitution of Demoex

April 20, 2010

The base of an organization is the constitution, a text pointing out the basic ideas, setting the rules and limits. One interesting and important part of the constitution is about objects, purposes and activities. Most of the political parties have a statute that says that their aim is to win influence and recruit members. Demoex lacks this kind of purpose. Instead the main paragraph of Demoex is:

We want to give every citizen the right to represent himself in any political point of issue.

The purpose is:

  • To increase people’s personal influence over political decisions.
  • To promote greater interest in local politics
  • To awaken and strengthen public opinion on this interest by politicians, government agencies, schools, businesses and others.

These are all non-partisan ideas, there is nothing about what to think. The Demoex Constitution also consist of standard paragraphs, ruled by the Swedish law of organization. They are about the annual meeting, the routines and so on. One interesting thing – to start an organization the law forces you to build in a hierarchy with a top-level (president), a second level (board) and at least one sublevel. We made the  hierarchy as weak and small as possibly in order to avoid the iron law of oligarchy.

The failure of Demoex depends on the constitution. A bad constitution stand on unsustainable premises. People are selfish in common. Local democratic influence doesn’t seem to have enough appeal. What’s in it for me?

Demoex doesn’t ask anyone to adopt a specific policy, we ask people to think and vote for themselves. Our aim is not only to extend people’s rights, but to make better decisions. Collective decision-making presupposes plurality and divergence. A group of like-minded persons, fighting against opponents with different ideas, does not increase the collective intelligence.

A new language-game in politics

April 19, 2010

Direct democracy via internet makes it possible for ordinary people to take part in politics without wasting a lot of time, without any special knowledge.

Soon we realized that one of the biggest challenges was the political language. Political records are sometimes very hard to understand. We could not change the culture of formal language, so we decided to “translate” the most important parts of the formal documents into ordinary language.


We needed to develop a new language-game – to speak with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Something between a chat and a parliament debate. To get people to write legibly, we organized a school of debate on the site. We said that if you want to convince others you have to write so they can understand and gave some advice:

  • Avoid repeating arguments
  • Start with the main idea
  • Be clear
  • Use simple words
  • Be brief
  • Use proper headings

Rules might be boring, but they are necessary. Participatory democracy cannot be anarchistic. The rules give a structure that is necessary for political freedom. We also made a more conventional list of rules for the debate.


  • Posts that violates the Swedish law
  • Lies or slander
  • Threats or harassment
  • Profanity or obscenities
  • Nonsense Messages, or posts that deviate significantly from the subject
  • Personal attacks or defamatory messages
  • Commercial messages
  • Incitement to crime
  • Unauthorized publication of copyrighted material
  • Links to sites with this content

Arguments for the target groups

April 18, 2010

But how do you advertise a party that has no policies? A normal party has a package of solutions that they advertise in the election campaign. Direct democracy presupposes a degree of uncertainty. We would certainly be asked what we think of various issues, if we are a left-wing or right-wing party, etc. How would we respond then? What would we say? “Let´s vote first, and then we´ll know?”

Demoex had no policy to advertise. Instead we wanted to change the shape of democracy towards greater openness, accessibility, choice and empowerment. How could we reach the possible target groups? We met and created different arguments that we could use in the election campaign.

Do you trust in yourself?

Then why would you put your right to have a voice in someone else’s hands? Why would you deprive yourself? Demoex gives you the chance to vote in favor of direct democracy. If we come in, you can have a voice in politics itself. Your voice will be just as worthy as mine.

Are your kids more important to you than local politics?

Demoex frees your time. Finally you can have a voice in the society, without neglecting your children. No long boring meetings – just influence.


Don’t you have time?

We make it easier for you. You might be politically active at odd times, regardless of when the physical meeting takes place. Internet is open 24 hours a day. It won’t take more than ten minutes a month to cast your votes.

Do you want to affect other people?

Welcome to debate the substantive issues on the net, but be ready to meet resistance!

Are you shy and quiet?

Finally a forum for you! Here, you will not need a loud voice to influence and decide. When the debates are becoming written, even the silent voices will be heard, and your vote is worth just as much as everyone elses.


Are you under 18 years old?

We lower the voting age. You just need to be sixteen years old to take part and vote in Demoex.

Are you retired?

With computer help, you can take part in politics far up in age. It does not matter if you start getting tired in your feet, as long as you have access to a computer and a clear head.

Do you think politics is corrupt?

Then you should try our open system and see if you manage to corrupt anyone! Open debate and anonymous voting makes it very difficult to manipulate and guide policy decisions.


Are you not interested in politics at all?

Well, but you might be interested in the issues relating to yourself and your loved ones? If Demoex takes a seat so you can join and vote only in the issues that concern you. You can skip the rest.

Are you more interested in global issues than the local policy?

Keep in mind that our local society is a part of the global world. We have environmental degradation, migration and the selling off of public housing also in the municipality. You have the greatest ability to influence at home. Think locally and act globally!


Are you LAZY?

Congratulations! With Demoex you can continue to stay at home on the couch and still have a voice in politics when it moves into the network, provided you have a laptop.

An appealing ballot paper

April 17, 2010

Demoex direct democratic approach was something new in the political system the year 2002. New ideas calls for marketing strategies. In order to candidate in the local election we needed to devise a ballot paper. In Sweden, the political correctness is almost a law. Everybody loves democracy, but trying to extend the democracy further is rather suspicious and far from the political mainstream.

Even if it does not matter who is representing the Demoex voters – because the representative has no more power than anyone else – our ballot had to look both serious and appealing. The candidates alone had to show that direct democracy means a change into something new. At the same time the ballot paper had to look political correct. I disqualified myself on the ballot, because there were already enough of white, male, middle-age persons in the council.

Parsia Molagholi x 3

Our first sharp voting in Demoex was the candidate ranking. At the top came Parisa Molagholi, one of the students involved from the beginning. Parisa’s young age (19) and whole appearance was a clear signal of change in policy. Parisa showed that the party was neither populistic or xenophobic, as detractors like to think otherwise.

Parisa and everyone else on the ballot had to sign a contract in which they pledged to add their voices to the statistically equivalent outcome of referendums on the Internet. This is the mechanism that makes it possible for citizens to take more part in politics than to vote only for a party every fourth year.

An attempt to cooperate with the other parties

April 16, 2010

We began by trying to get the other parties sympathetic to Demoex. Naive as we were, we asked for a short meeting with their elected representatives at the City Council. Our goal was to present the project for them to make them interested in cooperating.

We came into their coffee break. A computer was rigged with a projector so we could show NetConference. We told the elected from other parties that we thought of implementing a democratic experiment in which we need politicians’ involvement. “We’ll make you stars,” we said. “You are the most knowledgeable about conditions in the municipality, so we want to give you the opportunity to express your opinions and discuss issues online. Then citizens can take part and vote. We believe it will increase interest in local politics and that you will gain respect and trust among citizens.”

They seemed sympathetic until we told that we were planning to fund the experiment by candidate in the local election. Then there was a noticeable change. Some laughter heard and an annoying hum. Then the counterarguments began to hail on us: Don´t you understand that this might be dangerous? How will you be able to take responsibility for your policy? What do you do if a bunch of racists join your experiment? Have you thought about security? How can you believe that it will work?

We went from being well received to blamed on just a few minutes. I remember how the Social Democrats’ party leader said that “it is exciting and interesting what you young people do, but why do you stand for election? This means that we must fight against you.”

After the meeting, we were shocked and upset. We did not expect us that warmhearted defenders of democracy and citizen power would take a strong position against our ideas and refuse to cooperate with us. A purified politician that I spoke with after the meeting said about his colleagues that “they are afraid of losing their little position in society, its status and its small fee.” Now, retrospectively, we understand that the knee-jerk criticism that we unleashed was inevitable.

Another person sharing the same idea!

April 15, 2010

Me and my students where really grassroots. We had the idea of how to develop the democratic system, but where would we start? We had no money and no organization behind us. Around the year 2000 there were a couple of E-democracy projects in Sweden, hosted by different companies. I contacted them, talked about the students’ ideas and asked what the service would cost? It would be far too expensive. Then I found a newly opened system called NetConference. The company’s CEO Mikael Nordfors lived in Stockholm.

I met dr Mikael Nordfors for the first time in January 2002. He is a great person, both in literal and figurative sense. He received me in his apartment, dominated by a giant grand piano and modern information technology. I told him what we wanted to do and Mikael saw the potential immediately.

Several years earlier he attempted to introduce telephone polls in politics. When computers evolved, he decided to form the company Vivarto and invest in developing a decision support systems. Back in the head Mikael Nordfors was carrying the idea of reforming the political system with the help of technology. In Demoex dr Nordfors saw a new opportunity. He believed in us, and when I walked away, he had already created an administrator account for me so that we could test NetConference.

We invited the public to a first constituent meeting for Demoex. We booked Vallentuna theater with 340 chairs, because we had no idea how many people would be interested. Only seventeen persons showed up, most students under 20 years. The atmosphere was curious and unsure. How would we manage this? I started the meeting a little hesitant, trying to seem moderate enthusiastic. I told about the background and showed a bad powerpoint. The silent question was how it would go to in practice?

Then Mikael Nordfors arrived to the meeting. He introduced himself, sat down at the computer and demonstrated the advanced functions of NetConference. Then he told us that we could use the system free of charge until the election in September. Applause! Now, there were no longer funding obstacles and thus no turning back. We felt compelled to make an attempt.