“We had never worked in such a young democracy, so we joined forces in Georgia: our tool and NIMD’s knowledge of political parties.”
In the run up to the parliamentary elections in May 2008, the NIMD programme in Georgia has helped political parties define their programmes, using VoteMatch, an online voting tool developed by the Dutch Institute for Political Participation.
“When representatives of the Georgian political parties visited The Netherlands in 2006 to observe the general elections, NIMD brought them to IPP for a visit. I explained what IPP does, and showed them the Votematch. They immediately said: “We want that too!”. I was thrilled by their positive response but we had never worked in such a young democracy before, so we discussed the possibilities with NIMD. We decided to join forces: IPP’s Votematch tool and NIMD’s knowledge of the political parties.”
“We worked on a presentation for the leadership of the political parties in Georgia, showing them how Votematch could be used. Together with NIMD’s partner in Georgia we developed a list of about 160 political positions, which we proposed in the presentation. These were positions, which for instance solicited party views on the autonomous regions, but also on the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and the socio-economic situation.”
“It turned out to be rather difficult for the parties to take firm positions, as it entailed a certain vulnerability. After the party leadership had formulated their positions, their membership was asked to do the same. This was daring. We decided to do a survey per party and agreed with them that our analysis would not be public but merely serve internal party program strengthening.”
When IPP was analyzing the results of the surveys in November 2007, political unrest arose in Georgia. In January 2008, IPP and NIMD returned to Tblisi with the results. “The political parties thought it was a very instructive and useful trajectory”, says Ms van Dijk. Further proceedings were discussed, such as the wish to run a public Votematch before the next elections, which were set for May 2008. A very rigid but doable time schedule was made to rephrase the results of the surveys for a public Votematch, so that every Georgian citizen could define his or her political preference based on content.
“Thousands of newspapers had to be printed and distributed as we could not just reach voters via the Internet as is done here in The Netherlands. Georgia has less then 10% Internet coverage. We had set everything up. We were just waiting for the final approval of the political parties”, says Ms van Dijk with some disappointment, as she explains. “For Votematch to succeed as an all inclusive public participation tool, every single party has to contribute its standpoints. Otherwise the tool does not work. At the last moment one influential party refused to do so. Another party had hesitated a long time as well but participated in the end. A lot of energy was put into making it a successful Votematch, and it pains me to say that the last part of the project did not come through.”
“The ‘reverse Votematch model’ for internal party program development worked really well though. Part one of the project was definitely a success. We are thinking of doing it elsewhere too, for instance, in Suriname. Yes, together with NIMD. Indeed, that was another very positive aspect of this project: our collaboration. If you would ask me whether I would like to set up another project with NIMD? I would say: ‘When do we start?’”