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e-Democracy in Slovakia

The Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) has recently published the results of a representative research dedicated to the attitudes of the population on the issue of e-Democracy in Slovakia authored by IVO analyst Marián Velšic. This latest research report is yet another valuable contribution of the Institute to the discussion on the society's informatization, this time with focus placed on its societal-political implications.

The representative research was conducted on the sample of 1035 respondents aged 18 years and over and the was carried out in August 2007 as a part of a broader project entitled Launching e-Governance in Slovakia: Empowering Citizens to Participate, Influence and Exercise Democratic Control, which was generously supported by Trust for Civil Society in Central & Eastern Europe. e-Democracy in the broader sense of the meaning connotes using of modern information and communication technologies in support of processes within the system of governance in a representative democracy. Thus, the research report provides the answers to questions such as:

  • Evaluation of key projects and tools of electronic democracy in Slovakia
  • Level of civic participation - in the traditional and electronic form – including various formats, such as  discussion groups or fora, contributions in the form of internet diaries –  the so-called blogs, online exchange of information – chat, internet voting, various petitions and referenda, online surveys etc.
  • Internet-based „watchdog“ activities – focusing on public oversight and availability of information on various important societal-political issues, various irregularities in the public realm including those involved and the implications for the society and democratic oversight.
  • Practical utilization of the law on the unrestrained access to information on the internet
  • Potential for electronic voting in Slovakia.


Main Findings

Within the last year, 28% of the population has used various internet-based applications for the purposes of expressing their own views, searched out the opinions of others with regard to the topical socio-political issues. As the most wide-spread manifestations of electronic democracy in Slovakia, we can cite a great number of discussion groups and fora which are attended (18 %), the ever-more popular blogs (17 %) and online chat portals (13 %). Moreover, over the last year nearly every tenth citizen has taken part in various online surveys, expressing his/her views on a host of social and political issues. Generally, the more active approach the electronic communication requires, the lower was the level of usage among the population. For illustration, only 1 to 2 % of the population has confirmed taking own initiative via the internet – either in the form of posting a protest, lodging a complaint or petition, organizing of a public meeting, being involved with posting information on their blog or creating websites with the aim of expressing views on societal-political issues. On the other hand, the research found a sizable lag in online civic-based activities – with 72 % of respondents not participating in these activities. From a socio-demographic point of view, those with majority representation in this group of abstainers were women, members of the older generation, the retirees, those with lower qualifications, the unemployed and those in rural areas. As was shown by the results of the IVO research from the years 2005 and 2007, the barrier to a more prevalent use of electronic forms of participation is the low level of digital literacy, lack of access to computers and the internet. However, one very important factor was the (lack of) motivation of the potential user to learn and show a willingness to try something new.

It is without a doubt that watchdog activities of the Non-governmental organizations have in the past and continue to have a significant impact on the democratic processes in Slovakia. This is something that was confirmed by the study's findings, even though the majority of the population thinks that publishing findings of watchdog findings on the Internet has an effect on the behavior of the citizens at large, rather than on those whom it directly concerns – i.e. political parties, the government, the parliament or the president. Despite this fact, this kind of information is sought by 26 % of respondents. On the other hand, nearly every fifth respondent has searched for information on a specific persons or company, or has accessed the information on the business registry, browsed through the initiatives of local government or looked up information of political nature – such as the former secret police archives (11 %). Moreover, 9 % of respondents have sought out information on the activities of the highest level of executive and judiciary or checked the yearly mandatory property declarations of public officials (7 %).

As part of the progress in the area of e-Democracy, we can cite a genuine interest on part of the state institutions to bolster and expand the services offered in the area of civic and human rights. At the central state level, we can include the introduction of such services as the centralized portal of public administration implemented by the Ministry of Justice or the  portal of the Public defender of rights, both of which offer practical guidelines and pointers in the area of civic rights. Furthermore, in connection with the application of the law on unrestrained access to information, we can say that improvements have been made when it comes to citizen's access to the highest-level institutions of the state and local administration. It is increasingly the case that these institutions are utilizing the internet as a platform for providing information from their registers, databases. Despite this positive development, not even after several years since the passage of the so-called information law, upwards of 38 % of respondents stated that they are not aware of their existence.

What is even more disconcerting is the public's low awareness with regard to the possibilities of finding information in the electronic. Only 36 % of the respondents is aware of the possibility of using the E-mail to communicate with state bureaus and offices of public administration. According to the author of the research and IVO analyst Marián Velšic, "What is paradoxical is that while nearly half the population readily uses E-mail communication in their daily life (for private or business-related purposes), when it comes to using this mode in reaching out to state bureaus, institutions, public officials, only 8 %of the tasked individuals have actually used this option.



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On a different front – namely electronic voting, we can cite a more positive development when it comes to the attitudes of the population. This is so even despite the fact that the discussion on the levelling the playing field between electronic and traditional forms of official communication is presently carried out almost exclusively at the expert level. The research results have shown that if given the opportunity to vote electronically via the internet in the upcoming parliamentary, presidential or local elections – upwards of 37% of registered voters would welcome and actually use this option. The above-average interest in electronic voting was declared primarily by the younger generation; those who readily use computers and the internet as a means of civic participation; regular users of internet and - thus groups with a higher level of digital literacy.

On the other hand, 54 % of respondents have outright rejected electronic voting, with the main reasons given being the preference for a traditional way of voting, inadequate access to the internet and inadequate level of digital illiteracy. Surprisingly, such reasons as security risks connected with electronic voting have ranked toward the end of the list.

When it comes to the final decision on the implementation of electronic form of voting, the positions of the sympathizers of political parties could play a pivotal role. It has been shown that at present, the greatest benefit from its introduction would be derived by SDKÚ-DS. This is due to the fact that nearly a half of the potential voters of this party show a willingness to use electronic voting. However, another important group is constituted by the undecided voters – among these, also a half shows openness to this kind of voting. Moreover, the above-average interest was registered also among the sympathizers of Smer-SD (41 %). As was noted by the author of the report, Marián Velšic "When we look at the issue of implementing e-voting strictly through the prism of party politics – this could be in and of itself an insurmountable barrier. It could well happen that some political parties will look for excuses, such as the security issues connected with such as sensitive operation as voting undoubtedly is. These may choose this posture rather than to concede openly that the potential users of the electronic voting are not their constituent group. Thus, we can expect that some parties will choose to maximize their vote-getting potential, over supporting a progressive solution to the electoral process, which could ultimately lead to increasing the voter participation.“


Download:
e-Demokracia na Slovensku [PDF document in Slovak language, 1.3 MB] 

 



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