SOCIETY

Vouliwatch website helps make the birthplace of democracy more democratic

A new organization is making it easier for Greek citizens to communicate with their representatives in Parliament. Vouliwatch (“vouli” is the Greek word for “parliament”) began in October, 2013 when it registered as a nonprofit organization. The website, www.vouliwatch.gr, launched in March of this year and so far has reached over 1,100 registered users, with more than 500 questions directed at ministers by citizens they represent.

Vouliwatch has three main functions. One is to make it easier for a citizen to find out who their representatives are, which it does by providing a map of representatives from all parts of Greece and a profile page for each. There is also a section with profiles of Greek representatives in the European Parliament. The profile pages include biographical and contact information, as well as committee activity and party affiliations. Citizens who have signed up to use Vouliwatch can ask their MP, or any deputy for that matter, questions about issues they are concerned about. If and when the MP answers, their response is published on the site.

Another feature of Vouliwatch is a topical issue featured on the site each month with party positions, any related laws passed and other relevant information. The point of featuring one issue out of the many being debated at any given time in Parliament, according to Stefanos Loukopoulos, managing director of Vouliwatch, is to help citizens be more aware of what their elected officials are doing and saying about the most pressing issues at the time.

Vouliwatch has also had live events where citizens can ask participating MPs questions. So far there have been two such events, one in May before the Euro elections and another in July concerning beach privatization. “The next one will be on the funding of political parties and will be in either late October or early November,” says Loukopoulos.

“It is too early yet to gauge how effective Vouliwatch has been, but the amount of participation by both citizens and MPs so far is encouraging,” says Loukopoulos. One challenge is getting older Greeks to participate because a great number of them do not use the Internet and Vouliwatch hopes to bridge this gap by providing more live events. “Greek society is not predisposed to believe in a new movement,” says Loukopoulos, adding that another challenge Vouliwatch faces is the skepticism many Greek citizens have toward anything involving government.

Considering how revolutionary such a system of civic communication is in Greece at the national level, it has been met with skepticism by not only citizens but MPs as well. Some do not understand its impact or are reluctant to add to their and their staff’s workload, according to Loukopoulos. Others on the fringes of the political spectrum, such as MPs from the communist KKE party and neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, have simply shown no interest in engaging with Vouliwatch, so far. The site does have contact with MPs and has reached out to them directly if they have not answered a question that is within their jurisdiction, such as from a specific region or a policy issue they may be on the committee for.

Vouliwatch is also planning to have some new features by the time the next parliamentary elections are called, including a section called “Candidate Watch.” This will give citizens easier access to information about candidates running for office but who have not served as an MP before.

The original team of six who started Vouliwatch, a vibrant group of 30-somethings, used their own money to launch the organization. “Putting it together included plenty of pro bono work by ourselves and technical experts who designed the website,” says Loukopoulos. Since the launch, it has attracted the attention of international foundations and has recently started receiving grants. Loukopoulos says Vouliwatch is also hoping to receive funding from the EU. Up until November 11, Vouliwatch is running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise money for development. In the first five days it raised more than 2,000 euros out of its 20,000-euro goal.