PETALING JAYA, 12 Feb 2010: The Nut Graph‘s MP Watch: Eye on Parliament project is similar to a German web-based initiative where people can pose questions to their elected representatives in the national parliament or Bundestag.
Abgeordnetenwatch.de, which literally means “watching Members of Parliament”, was a grassroots effort started in Hamburg in 2004. The founders were a sociologist and an information technology student who wanted a solution to a common question: “How can I vote for a certain person when I don’t even know who they are?”
In that year, Hamburg was having a referendum on a new electoral law. The founders of Abgeordnetenwatch.de realised there was a need to close the information and communication gap between the electorate and their representatives.
Political parties were quick to support the website’s concept as long as it maintained political neutrality.
The website contains all information about an MP deemed relevant to voters, such as important statements, voting record in parliament, parliamentary committee memberships, constituency information, personal background and contact information.
The idea behind Abgeordnetenwatch.de was to promote transparency and hold MPs accountable by allowing any website visitor to post questions directly to any MP.
The questions are publicly accessible but have to meet certain guidelines. These guidelines include no insults, no questions about the MP’s private life, and naming facts and sources in the questions.
The answers are published on the site and archived, making it easy to evaluate each MP’s work during his or her term.
Abgeordnetenwatch.de changed the manner of political communication and fascinated many Germans. From being a project confined to the state legislative body of Hamburg, it now covers all 622 members in the Bundestag, and 99 German representatives in the European Parliament.
At state level, the Hamburg and Bavaria legislators are participants while the remaining 14 state legislatures in Germany are waiting for funding.
Abgeordnetenwatch.de is funded by non-profit organisations and the public. Donations are made via credit card on the website.
During an election period, candidates are also allowed to donate a specific fee to participate, in exchange for using the website as a campaign platform. Political parties can also post their election agenda on the site.
MPs were initially reluctant to be questioned in public through an online platform. Many felt it was unnecessary and couldn’t grasp its value.
But as the German media began to report extensively on the project, and as the number of people posting questions online increased, MPs felt obliged to respond or face public scorn.
Today, at least 93% of the Bundestag’s 622 MPs are actively answering questions posted on the site.
The website was nominated for a well-known German media award just six months after it started. It has proven to be an effective means to promote greater democracy, transparency and accountability between the electorate and their MPs.
MPs have also begun to appreciate its value in allowing them to speak directly to people unfiltered by party protocols.
Patrick Kratzenstein is an intern at the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung.