Above photo: Presentation on Partido X in the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.
As European parliamentary elections approach in May, a revolutionary citizen network in Spain is emerging to challenge the business as usual approach to electoral politics.
Under the banner of the Partido X: a Citizen Network, a new project conceived around the 15M constellation, the people are putting together a new structure for political participation that seeks to channel the 99%’s thirst for meaningful action, while at the same time undermining the corrosive grip traditional political parties have had in Spain over the last decades.
The idea is simple: create tools and methods for active citizen participation in the drafting of a party platform and the selection of candidates, that if elected must abide by the decisions of the network. “We want to open new ways for some of the victories the citizen movements have achieved to materialize, because the political parties in Spain are totally ignoring the population” says 15M veteran and Partido X organizer Miguel Aguilera.
Partido X combines a variety of emerging practices from around the world—like Brazilian participatory budgeting, wiki-constitutions in Iceland, citizen driven public transparency efforts in Sweden, Denmark or Finland, or regular use of referendums in Switzerland. Partido X is also creating new methods like the “Federation of Competences” an organizing principle that proposes mechanisms to implement effective distributed democratic participation in large-scale organizations. They are radically redrawing our expectations of how a political party ought to look like.
“The Federation of Competences is an attempt to overcome some the limitations of both vertical and horizontal decision making structures. For example, the program of the Partido X is developed through crowd-sourced drafting of public policy proposals, where we invite groups or experts that are already working on a given issue and are socially recognized for it to submit the first draft of a policy proposal and later we post it online for the network to amend. This way we combine expert knowledge about an issue with open and transparent participation.” According to Aguilera so far they have approved three platform proposals using this method, and each go around has proven more successful than the past “our first proposal Democracy, Full Stop took several weeks to pass though the correction and amendments process, since then we’ve passed an Economic Plan and an Emergency Plan to confront the crisis, both have evolved in much smoother fashion.” More than 2,000 people have participated so far in the amend processes, and as the platform grows so do their numbers: around 25,000 are registered in their newsletter, which is the first step to collaborate in the network.
Partido X candidates are also selected differently “we create open lists of candidates, the only requirements are you not be affiliated with an existing political party and not be convicted of corruption or criminal charges. Candidates are then submitted to test-run events where the network can judge their competence.” When pressed on whether the reliance on candidates would jeopardized the democratic structure of the network, Aguilera suggest “we think of Partido X candidates as though they were public avatars for the network. By establishing radical transparency and new methods of participation, candidates will be constantly held responsible, not just until the next election cycle. We already have empty politicians, the difference is they respond to the interest of the corrupt and powerful.” What the Partido X Citizen Network is trying to do isn’t completely new, some established political parties have been experimenting with some of these methods, but it does represent the first incursion into electoral politics on the part of one of the diffuse network movements that sprung up during the global uprisings of 2011: “we took great pains from not trying to profit at the expense of the 15M and other citizen movements, and create to some extent our own identity and network infrastructures. But we are definitely tapping into the spirit of empowerment that 15M created.”
Currently the Partido X is going on tour throughout Spain, spreading the word and gauging whether to run European Parliament candidates for the elections in late May. The tour has become a powerful organizing tool, since it encourages cities that want to host a Partido X event to develop the crowdfunding campaign, promote it through local social networks and take care of the logistics, thus creating autonomous nodes for the Partido X across the country.
“These next european elections promise to be interesting. Even though our approach is different from the 5 Star Movement in Italy, what we are seeing is the growing momentum of a network driven opposition to the big financial interests thats have eroded democracy in Europe. The hope would be that if we start winning elections more parties will begin to adopt this approach.”
Miguel Aguilera is part of a large group of organizers some meeting through 15M and others attracted by the opening of a new front in the electoral arena, either in squares or online, and are spread all across the country. They have been working tirelessly over the past two years to assemble a workable alternative to the domination of the party system “we have been primarily focused on trying to set up a workable, scalable structure, which continues to evolve as the network grows. Soon we will have to focus on how to win elections.”
Many of the tools from different citizen movements will be re-purposed to garner support: everything from live streaming, to creative actions. But what members of the Partido X network are truly banking on is that:
“People are fed up. They are fed up with the political parties, they are fed up economic policies that serve the rich. They’re fed up with not having a voice. It’s time for the people to beat the Party System at their own game,” says Partido X.