Paolo Gerbaudo | Party Politics
A number of Western European countries have recently seen the emergence of ‘digital parties’. This term refers to a new wave of political organisations committed to transforming intra-party democracy (IPD) through the adoption of online ‘participatory platforms’, sections of their official websites where registered members can debate and decide on various issues. In this article, I assess the democratic quality of online participatory platforms in the Five Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain, examining various features embedded in them – discussions and proposals, elections of party officials and candidates and referendums – and evaluating their degree of inclusiveness, centralisation and institutionalisation. I argue that counter to their promise to introduce a more membership-controlled and inclusive democracy, IPD in digital parties is strongly top-down. What these formations offer is a plebiscitarian ‘reactive democracy’ where members have little say over the process and are mostly left with ratifying decisions taken by the party leadership. This state of affairs calls for a critical rethinking of digital technology’s potential for transforming IPD.