Monday, July 16, 2012

Civil disobedience through election

Mayor Stubbs (picture by AP)
As the Belgian provincial and municipal elections (14th of October) and those for the United States presidency (6th of November) are drawing near, I see more and more articles in the news about joke political parties and unusual election results.

I would like to call this a way of "civil disobedience through election" and find it a very interesting trend. Is this a social signal of a growing mistrust of the more conventional parties or criticism towards the current political system in general?

So what have we seen so far?

For me the most interesting example is the Icelandic Best Party (Besti flokkurinn) who had won a plurality on the Reykjavík city council by election in 2010. Founded as a joke party in 2009 by Jón Gnarr, an Icelandic actor, comedian and writer, it had admitted from the beginning that it would not honour any of its promises given before elections.

Their program consists out of 13 interesting counts with some hilarious footnotes, but still they were able to convince the Reykjavikians. Was it their promise of a polar bear in the zoo, the free towels, or was the population just tired of being lied to?


A second success story is the Spanish town Marinaleda, which has become a communistic enclave through democratic election. The town is now run as a farming cooperative of 2,650 people. There is no housing problem, all are employed and there is no municipal police. According to Wikipedia, all houses have 3 bedrooms, a bathroom and a garden of 100 m², allowing for future expansions, you get the land for free and can live there for only 15 euros per month, providing that you build the house yourself.

As I take from the Belgian video report (as shown on Terzake on the 21st of February 2012), there are regular town meetings which execute direct democracy. Yearly there are about 100 meetings.


There is even a cat as a mayor in Talkeetna a small town of 900 residents in Alaska. Stubbs, as the cat is named, has been mayor since she was born in 1997. At the first election time, some residents did not approve of the candidates who were running for mayor and so they tried to make people elect the cat instead, as a way of expressing their feelings. Stubbs has been mayor ever since, and a daily touristic attraction.

Not bad for a cat and quite an interesting sign of public discontentment.


So far the unconventional parties and candidates that got successfully elected. If we now look at the upcoming events, there is the televangelist Bill Keller who calls people to vote for Jesus Christ as the new president for the US. Seriously? Yes. According to him, 200.000 citizens are already committed to the cause and he hopes that the number will reach a million by November.

A bit far-fetched if you ask me, but what makes the case interesting for this article is that he asks to elect Jesus as the choice between Romney and Obama is like "flipping a coin where Satan is on both sides", so another example of a public signal.

I guess Bill Keller is no fan of Gary Johnson or Jill Stein either...

Another example of discontentment with elections from a christian point of view is Wes Howard-Brook he believes it is against his faith to even vote at all, as he states: "Would Moses have us vote for a “kinder, gentler” pharaoh, or Jesus for a better emperor?".

also: Who Would Moses or Jesus Vote For? by Wes Howard-Brook

If I have a look at my own country, at the moment two new trends pop into mind. First I want to mention the Pirate Party, they are not a joke party (although they do not take themselves too seriously, arrrr!) as they can clearly be seen as a different approach to politics than the traditional parties. This is of course as well because they have a statement on privacy and freedom of information, themes that are now relevant because of our technological advances but weren't yet presented by the more conventional political families.

They are part of an international political movement, the Pirate Parties International (PPI) which was formally founded at a 2010 conference in Brussels, and which was started by the Swedish Piratpartiet. Now this moment is active in over 30 other countries where civilians feel the need of a political answer to these new questions on the usage of data.

In Germany, the national Piratenpartei, first had a 8.9 percent of vote in the 2011 Berlin's city assembly elections while it now holds 8.2 percent of the popular vote and six seats in state elections for the 2012 elections in the Northern State of Schleswig-Holstei.

In Belgium, the Pirate Party is coming up for the municipal elections of Antwerp, Adinkerke, De Panne, Brabant Wallon, Ghent, Hainaut, Leuven, Namur and Schaerbeek, which is quite an impressive list for a new and young party.


A second new trend in Belgium is LijstLijst ("ListList") founded by Dirk Valvekens who calls it "pure democracy". It is a party without a program. Any inhabitant of the municipality where this political party gets elected, can make suggestions to the elected representative through the website of the party. It is a form of direct democracy as the program gets formed by the online participants. In that way, civilians can react much faster to changes instead of having to wait for the new elections every six years.

As Belgium uses the electronic identity card (every adult citizen is obligated to have one) for filling in the tax forms and other public services of its citizens, this is again the perfect tool of making a platform for politics.



  1. Quite an interesting phenomenon, this ‘Civil disobedience through election’. The question is: what will remain of all these ‘new’ initiatives? Probably most will die silently but hopefully some will stay. With the exception of Piratpartiet, most of these initiatives mostly thrive in smaller communities too. Within those initiatives, the principle isn’t that new. Initiatives that solely exist in one city have always been there. Perhaps now they will truly flourish? I can’t say. And actually, when such an initiative gains interest, they - or their best known - are often taken in by national parties to play a part in ‘the bigger picture’. Which essentially destroys everything that made them special and enrols them in the particracy which they set out to challenge in the first place... (They are not all as radical as the cat or Besti Flokkurinn, but the principle of direct democracy is more apparent than in national politics. Which is quite logical.)

    Oh, and I took the liberty to post the link of this post on facebook as well. And something else entirely, have you seen your niece in the paper? You can see the article here:

  2. update of 16th of August 2012: The mayor of Marinaleda: Spanish "Robin Hood" Mayor Loots Supermarket (


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