Sebastian Winther, Holger Thorup and Mikkel Møller Andersen are laying the foundations for a new political party, The Initiative (Initiativet) in their open workspace a few minutes’ walk from Store Kongensgade in central Copenhagen.
The journey started a year earlier on a trip to Krakow, Poland, when they got talking about politics and the need to shake up the system. They weren’t particularly politically active. Only Winther had ever belonged to a political party, The Alternative, but he left after realising it excluded the views of some of its members.
“I simply haven’t found a good place to participate, and I have often rejected the idea of joining a political party and adhering to its agenda,” says Winther. “The same goes for all of us here at Initiativet. We like politics, but we do not feel like we fit in the current system.”
In recent years, confidence in politicians has fallen along with youth participation in general elections. A survey conducted by Ugebrevet A4 in 2015 discovered that 63 percent of Danes have little confidence in politicians, almost twice as many as in 2007. The participation of 19 to 29-year-olds likewise dropped ten percentage points between the 2007 and 2015 general elections.
“Not long ago, I held a talk at the Technical University of Denmark on the development of our new platform, and I started the presentation by asking people to raise their hands if they were interested in politics. Barely anyone did,” Thorup explains.
“Then I asked who was interested in society and believes that the decisions we make are important for everyone. Almost all students raised their hands.”
Initiativet wants to broaden public participation by allowing citizens to vote on parliamentary legislation using an online public platform. Initiativet’s MPs will then vote according to what a majority of the party members decide is the right course of action.
“The party is not a platform for us to use as a political microphone. Our idea is that the sum of Denmark’s people are smarter than the sum of its politicians,” says Winther.
When it comes to selecting a Prime Minister following a general election, Initiativet MPs will follow the will of the remaining majority in Parliament. If there is no clear majority, the issue will be settled through a vote on the online platform. They also hope to use the platform to allow members to present legislation that other members can vote on before being presented to Parliament.
Thorup argues that by making the views of the party’s members their own, they will give a voice to those who want to see societal change but have little to no trust in politicians and the current system. And by encouraging members to play an active role in parliamentary decision-making, they hope to counter the diminishing participation in politics across Denmark in recent years.
Professor Rune Stubager from the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University argues that the party might run into trouble by appearing too neutral to voters.
“The idea of voting for a party that has no policies, but will base its positions on online votes, would seem a rather risky business from a voter’s perspective, as you never know what you’ll end up getting in terms of policy,” says Stubager.
Professor Kasper Møller Hansen from the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen adds that the issues that are discussed in Parliament can often be incredibly complicated, which limits how appealing it is for citizens to get involved enough to formulate a position.
“I think that the idea of handing everything over to the people is unlikely to work in Denmark. Politics demands a lot of thought and effort in order to be understood, and that is why we have a representative democracy that can secure thoughtful and deliberate decisions,” Hansen explains.
He points to Switzerland, which has a long history of direct democracy through referendums at the federal and local level. On a federal level, for example, a vote is held on a popular initiative if it receives more than 100,000 signatures within 18 months. But despite its greater level of citizen involvement in political decision-making, Switzerland has also suffered from voter apathy and a decline in voter turnout in recent years.
“I believe it is up to the politicians to gain their trust back, by finding time to talk to and engage with the public, and parties are trying to do just that right now,” says Hansen.
Shaking up the system
Initiativet is currently collecting the 20,000 signatures that are needed in order to run in the next general election. Thorup acknowledges that the party will probably not grow to the size of the established parties, but they hope to obtain just enough support to be the determining vote on parliamentary legislation.
“This is the perfect situation to be in, because the vote will end up being determined by the people rather than by a bunch of elected politicians,” he explains.
Winther adds that, ultimately, their goal is to shake up the current political system, rather than to cultivate parliamentary influence.
“The declining trust in politics and the lower voter turnout among younger generations is signalling that the current system is not working successfully, so now is the time to start doing things differently.” M