"Keep your promises or clear out!" As plain as day, this is the no-nonsense message Respolis sends to politicians who plan to represent us after having won a majority of our votes. In other words, no waiting till the next elections to sanction political responsibility.
Sound like political fiction? Wrong! The campaign has begun to take roots in the real world, in Catalonia.
Respolis (Platform for Responsibility in Politics) launched a campaign in Catalonia for the parliamentary elections in November 2006 and a second one for municipal elections in two large Catalan cities in May 2007. The campaigns demanded that political parties keep their election promises once in power (as well as take up a set of proposals resulting from an open consultation) or to quit office at the mid-term of their mandate and call for new elections.
From the parliamentary to the municipal elections: a big step forward
By parliamentary-election day, 550 people had endorsed the campaign with their signature and consequently committed their vote for any party that would have accepted the above-mentioned conditions. This was not enough to draw the parties’ attention, but it was a first step.
For the municipal elections, a debate was organized in Sabadell, and the candidates of four political parties signed a document containing Respolis’s conditions. None of the four won the elections, but Respolis Sabadell committed to monitor and evaluate, with the support of other organizations, whether the winner keeps his promises in his next four years of government.
The Respolis proposals did not have to be screened in terms of the so-called "realism" prism through which most political parties, especially the major ones, view the world. They therefore reflect real needs in the form of in-depth-change proposals to match them, as expressed by the participants themselves, with the contribution of social movements.
Participatory democracy being practiced on the field
The "Polítics: compliu o marxeu!" (Politicians: job done or you’re gone!) campaign is an initiative of the Platform for Responsibility in Politics (Respolis). Its goals are:
the mid-term revocation or repeal of representatives who have broken their election promises;
to organize a series of consultations and discussions with and among citizens with a view to drawing up a list of proposals as if they were election platforms;
that those who endorse the platform with their signature commit to vote for any of the parties that will have accepted both of the above conditions (the campaign proposals resulting from the consultations and the principle of repeal) by calling a referendum, once in power, for the introduction of this innovation into the electoral system.
The Catalan campaign was launched on two occasions: first, for the Catalan autonomous elections (November 1, 2006) and then, for the May 27, 2007 municipal elections in Barcelona and in Sabadell. The following stages were totally or partially achieved on both occasions:
1) compilation of citizens’ proposals
2) discussions for selection among the proposals and drafting of the final list
3) endorsement through signature collection
4) call to candidates and invitation to the media
5) communication to the signatories of the parties’ response a few days before elections
6) monitoring whether elections promises are honored throughout the legislature, with the support of other organizations
Respolis and the elections to the Parliament of Catalonia (November 2006)
To prepare these elections, Respolis sent all citizens, in June 2006, an open e-mail invitation to participate in writing up a list of proposals, which resulted in 25 participants’ sending in 340 demands, which were then classified under 11 topics. During the summer, the document was improved by adding other proposals offered by civil-society organizations whose issues were under-represented in the first list. In September, Respolis launched a second invitation, this time to vote for the removal of proposals that participants did not wish to see in the definitive "platform". Thirty-five persons participated and four proposals were removed.
Once the final list was ready, Respolis sent out another call to citizens and civil society, this time to endorse the platform with their signature, which also entailed that they commit their vote to any party having accepted to incorporate into its platform the list of proposals and the repeal mechanism.
The platform was finally signed by 572 people (about 550 by election day, and the rest after election day). The whole process took place on the Internet.
Respolis in the Sabadell municipal elections (May 2007)
Sabadell is an industrial city in the Barcelona suburbs. It is the third most populated Catalan city with 200,000 inhabitants.
To prepare the municipal elections, the Respolis Sabadell team collected, between February and April 2007, with the contribution of 40 participants, a list of proposals. Two deliberation sessions were then organized, and their main result was a final list with 48 proposals classified under 14 topics.
Then signature collection began. By the end of the campaign, 160 persons had signed and the local media had published a few articles on the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Respolis Sabadell team invited the candidates to a debate, during which they were requested to either sign or to state their position in relation to the proposals collected by Respolis, as well as to commit to resigning at the mid-term of their mandate if they had ignored the proposals and/or broken part of their own promises for the period. The exercise also consisted in inviting the parties to give a relative value to these proposals (so they could be easily measured when compared to one another). This is to allow a possible citizens’ jury, or "Commitment Monitoring Council," to base its conclusions on these calculations when measuring the degree of fulfillment.
Four political parties signed and though none of these won, Respolis Sabadell will supervise the fulfillment of the promises
Five candidates attended this meeting and four of them signed the document including the proposals (having partially rewritten some of them) and the repeal procedure. This is probably the first time that several political parties (left-wing and right-wing, Pro-Catalan and Pro-Spanish ones) have signed a document where they commit to resign if they do not fulfill a multi-thematic list of proposals.Two days before the elections - on eve of "Reflection Day" - Respolis Sabadell informed the 160 signatories, through several means, of how the parties had responded so that they could vote accordingly.
Municipal elections in Catalonia are one-round elections authorizing post-electoral coalitions. The PSC (Catalan Socialist Party), which had not signed the Respolis document, won in Sabadell but did not get a majority of seats. It will thus rule as a minority government.
Now that elections are over, Respolis Sabadell is preparing the next stage: reporting on the fulfillment of the promises contained in the PSC election platform. Respolis will invite other organizations to report, in the coming years, on the progress of their demands in relation to the fulfillment of the socialist platform. Respolis will collect, organize, and distribute this information among the organizations themselves, and send it to the media and to the city council.
This information will be used to give the municipal government "a grade" every year. The whole process and its possible popularization through the media will help to lobby in favor of the fulfillment of election promises.
Respolis in the municipal elections of Barcelona (May 2007)
The other Respolis campaign in municipal elections took place in Barcelona and was characterized by: 1) the absence of a citizens’ consultation and consequently of a list of proposals (signatories were required to vote for the party or parties that would accept to resign after two years only if they broke their own promises); 2) a request that parties wishing to form a post-electoral coalition do so only with partners who would previously accept the same conditions; 3) a request that the mid-term resignation be followed by an unofficial consultation in view of forming a new government until the end of the mandate, in order to respect the common and compulsory calendar for Spanish municipal elections.
This less well-prepared Barcelonese campaign was signed by 107 people, but it was impossible to invite the political parties to a debate, and none of them signed the campaign.
Respolis will launch new campaigns of this kind, as well as other initiatives on citizen and political responsibility.
Proposals rooted in the need for deep change but lacking ways of popularization
In the two cases where lists of proposals resulted from citizens’ consultations (in the parliamentary elections and in the Sabadell elections), these helped the demands for deep changes to gain popularity. Some of these demands were longstanding demands by social movements, while others were recent proposals from new perspectives. However, none of them have met with sufficient success. They will probably be reinforced thanks to this new way of voting and using politics to benefit of the people. Without making light of any of the other proposals, some can be seen as very audacious and at the same time very necessary. This is the case some of the proposals resulting for the parliamentary elections regarding economic rights, the environment, participation and democracy, institutions and the public sector. In the Sabadell elections, there are also original proposals to be found in the area of transportation, road networks, health, sustainability, and institutions.
The campaigns "Job Done or You're Gone!" (English)
The proposals for the Elections to the Parliament (Catalan) (Spanish)
The Respolis Sabadell campaign (Catalan)
The "Documents of Commitment" signed by the candidates (Catalan)
The follow-up of the promises made for the period 2007-2011 (Catalan)
The Election promises wiki "Lo prometido is deuda" (Spanish)
Respolis was developed in Catalonia in a context of a rising abstention, especially in the last elections. Yet, in spite of the importance given by the media to this false problem (the real problem being in the causes of this abstention), the emerging character of this initiative made it impossible for it to take advantage of this public media debate to underscore the importance of the social and political structural reasons of the high current abstention rates and lead the debate toward possible alternatives.
On the other hand, other new initiatives for transparency and responsibility in politics are coming to light, especially on the Internet. For example, in Spain, a collaborative Web site in wiki format is listing the promises of all the candidates in the municipal, autonomic, and state elections.
Nevertheless, citizen deliberative practices on the one hand, and now control over the fulfillment of promises on the other, are gradually showing their potential for mobilizing and wielding influence, but also for generating greater mutual understanding and dialog. They can be seen as breakthroughs, or first steps to a future larger and diversified range of solutions for facing the crisis of representative democracy and its social and political origins.