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E-Democracy in Ukraine: what is it?

After the Maidan, many people in Ukraine put the question “what is now?” on the table. The society is stirred up, with the significant part of its citizens being actively engaged in civic life: some groups are writing new laws, some groups are gathering support for the army in the East, and some are showing their discontent with the Maidan, because “nothing has changed”. Under such conditions, electronic democracy seems to be the unique opportunity to overcome the vicious circle of futile fights and unify the country.

I will begin this short note with a difference between e-governance and e-democracy. The first one consists of improving the quality of state services for citizens and businesses, increasing the efficiency of internal communication in state offices, and, last but not least, reducing the paperwork. E-governance should be introduced by the state and is extremely important for Ukraine in the long term. The best illustration here is the photo by Pavlo Sheremeta, Ukrainian Minister of Economy, that became viral on Facebook: the pile of documents he signs during one day at the Ministry.

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The number of documents that Minister of Economy signs for one day is huge. Source: www.facebook.com

In contrast, e-democracy is about the society offering new agenda for the state and controlling how this agenda is fulfilled. Such instrument allows dynamic expression of will by citizens, who can react to governmental decisions, articulate collective demands, and make the authorities respond to them. In other words, a person does not have to wait till the next elections to express their will. Moreover, if a certain number of people want the same, they have an option to realize their needs. Probably, the best example of e-democracy in work in case of Ukraine would be making a chief police officer resign after the police have exerted unlawful actions against peaceful demonstrators.

If we go further and pose the question of why e-democracy is necessary for the Ukrainian society today, two main causes emerge: outlaw socio-political conflicts and impoverished economy. The first problem is related to the absence of lawful ways to constantly control our politicians. Specifically, the communists and some members of the Party of Regions discredited themselves by supporting the separatists in the East. People reacted on that by beating the representatives of these political forces. This way of solving socio-political altercations obviously leads to the abyss of permanent military fights between various groups. In other words, there ought to be a possibility for constant expression of will from citizens in a lawful way. The second reason does not need a corroboration, because there is plenty information about the conditions of Ukrainian economy on the web. The country requires a cheap solution, as the state has to rely on IMF dough even to provide its existing services. So far, e-democracy system has been developing without a coin of state money. Under such economic circumstances, this is probably the solution.

Taking into account the shortcomings of Ukrainian legislation, I dare to predict that electronic means of democracy will be developing not in the form of a direct democracy, but rather in the form of a netocracy. That is, there will be groups and organizations willing to employ the system of e-democracy for their specific reasons. This way, the whole group joins the system and electronically signs a specific document to a concrete person in power. Such scheme also means that this person is aware of their intentions and is ready to meet the demands of this group. For example, the first requests to use e-democracy came from Reanimation Package of Reforms community – for signing an electronic agreement with Petro Poroshenko, the new President, and from Territorial Community of Lviv – for electing its head in order to become a legal entity.

Welcome to netocracy. Source: theballoonworld.com

Overall, a clear demand for continuously influencing the state agenda and controlling how the people in power implement this agenda exists in Ukrainian society today. At the same time, there are no financial resources of the state to meet the objective. So, the active part of Ukrainians is creating e-democracy by own means. Comparing this sphere to e-governance, I would say that the second one is more important for reducing corruption among state officials and improving the quality of state services in the long run. However, e-governance is impossible to introduce without the trusted and diligent state. Before coming to this point, the society needs an instrument of dynamic influence on state representatives in order to build a new kind of trust between citizens and authorities, which belongs to the realm of e-democracy.