Hacking Madrid

  • Juan Manuel Biaiñ
Can a technological revolution overcome Spain's deeply entrenched political elite? Pablo Soto, former software developer, activist and recently elected councilor for Participation and Transparency in Madrid's radical new administration, is trying to build the technology for a direct democracy, allowing citizens to propose and elect their own laws.

Together with colleague and fellow democracy activist Miguel Arana, Soto is working on a website that will allow the people of Spain's capital city to suggest, select and vote on new policies directly.

We didn't come here to play the game of the parties - we came here to play the game of the people.

Pablo Soto, councillor for Ahora Madrid

Decide Madrid enables citizens to express their views on whatever issues they feel the government should be addressing and to make new policy proposals. If any idea gets enough public support, through registered by votes on the website, the government will hold a referendum for the whole of the city to decide.

"Everything that's happening now can be understood as part of a huge change that started in Spain four years ago," Soto explains, referring to the 15M or indignados movement that began in 2011. "We didn't come here to play the game of the parties. We came here to play the game of the people."

While the website seems the perfect response to calls for more democracy in Spain, it is not without its detractors.

Opposition parties are trying to scare people off the idea by warning them of the dangers of empowering technology to dictate government policy.

The developers also have to convince a sceptical older segment of the population who don't trust or understand the technology. Are the people of Madrid ready for people power? And can its creators get enough participation to keep the project alive - and protect it from political opposition and media oblivion?