Italy’s Failed Digital Democracy Dream

The Five Star Movement’s row with its voting platform bodes ill for the future of online politics.

The Five Star Movement (5SM), wanted to upend Italian politics with its revolutionary plans for digital direct democracy. Over the past few months, instead, it almost managed to upend itself, stuck in a kafkaesque drama that left its online voting platform paralysed.

The anti-establishment party, founded in the late 2000s by comedian Beppe Grillo and digital entrepreneur Gianroberto Casaleggio, prided itself on reconciling with politics thousands of disenfranchised citizens, giving them a say on strategic decisions and in the selection of candidates by means of frequent online votes.

But over the past two months its internal processes have been disrupted by a painful divorce with the association that owns Rousseau, the web platform (named after the Genevan political philosopher and theorist of direct democracy) where the 5SM used to hold its ballots and debates. The end of a long stalemate between the party and the platform, this week, provided some respite – but questions remain on whether the party’s online democracy utopia can ever be revived.

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