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Populists claim that they alone represent the voice of the people against a corrupt elite. We argue that populist governments augment this claim by appropriating and manipulating the language and methods of participatory governance. Advancing an analytical framework on content, process, effect, resource efficiency and communication dimensions, we illustrate these arguments with the National Consultations in Hungary in 2010–18. Our conclusion for the case study is that these exercises were deeply flawed for securing popular input into policy-making. The implication for scholarship is that participatory governance enthusiasts need to be more aware not just of the uses, but also the abuses, of public input, while scholars of populism should pay more attention to the actual policies and practices populist actors employ to gain or maintain power.
Policy & Politics • vol X • no X • X–X • © Policy Press 2019
Print ISSN 0305 5736 • Online ISSN 1470 8442 •
Accepted for publication 11 December 2018 • First published online 15 March 2019
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The use and abuse of participatory governance by
populist governments
Agnes Batory,
Sara Svensson,
Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Populists claim that they alone represent the voice of the people against a corrupt elite. We argue
that populist governments augment this claim by appropriating and manipulating the language
and methods of participatory governance. Advancing an analytical framework on content, process,
effect, resource efficiency and communication dimensions, we illustrate these arguments with the
National Consultations in Hungary in 2010–18. Our conclusion for the case study is that these
exercises were deeply flawed for securing popular input into policy-making. The implication for
scholarship is that participatory governance enthusiasts need to be more aware not just of the
uses, but also the abuses, of public input, while scholars of populism should pay more attention to
the actual policies and practices populist actors employ to gain or maintain power.
key words populism • participatory governance • collaborative governance • Hungary
• national consultations
To cite this article: Batory, A. and Svensson, S. (2019) The use and abuse of participatory
governance by populist governments, Policy & Politics,
DOI: 10.1332/030557319X15487805848586
A nation can only build its future on the foundations of the system of
democracy if it believes in the common sense and sense of responsibility of its
citizens. This is why we civic, national and Christian democrats introduced…
the national consultation…to create common areas of understanding;
common areas of agreement which allow the people, their elected parliament
and government to act with a common will. (Viktor Orbán, 2017b)1
These were the words of Hungary’s populist leader, Viktor Orbán, upon the conclusion
of a so-called national consultation about Hungary’s relationship with the EU. One
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
of seven consultations organised by the Orbán government, this particular exercise
in 2017 solicited the opinion of respondents on a range of (alleged) EU policies.
The questionnaire mailed to every Hungarian household claimed, for instance, that
‘Brussels wants to force Hungary to let in illegal immigrants’ and sought answers as to
whether, in response, illegal immigrants should be detained ‘to keep Hungarian people
safe’ or whether ‘illegal immigrants should be allowed to move freely in Hungary’.
According to the government, some 1.7 million questionnaires were returned out
of approximately 8 million sent out, with an overwhelming majority supporting the
position that, indeed, ‘Brussels’ should be stopped, and illegal immigrants should be
taken into custody. This enabled the Prime Minister to claim that ‘the Hungarian
people’ have spoken and authorised his government’s controversial policies.
The national consultations are interesting not only because they have been employed
with such regularity and significant partisan eects since 2010 in Hungary, but also
because they allow us to investigate the nexus between the language and practices of
populism and participatory governance. Participatory governance has been advocated
by many as a potential way to remedy a perceived alienation of voters from politics
in western democracies – a sense of disillusionment with the political process that is
said to fail to involve citizens in decisions aecting their own lives in a meaningful
way. Participatory governance advocates criticise representative democracy as being
overly focused on the act of voting – a one-o event once every few years which limits
citizens’ ability to control the policy agenda. Others point to a growing gap between
political decision-makers and citizens’ concerns, leading to a decline of public trust
in government (for example, Marozzi, 2015; Yeo and Green, 2017; Uslaner, 2018).
Various forms of public participation on the other hand are expected to educate
citizens, help develop a civic culture, and boost the legitimacy of decision-making.
In short, ‘“participatory democracy” evokes a conception of democracy that stresses,
valorises and (normatively) “wishes for” processes of political decision-making directly
involving citizens’ (Floridia, 2017, 4).
Scholarship has, however, so far largely overlooked the question what happens
when populist actors, rather than mainstream parties, employ and institutionalise
inclusive participatory methods. We argue that despite the new opportunity created
for citizens to express their opinion, the eects are paradoxical and even perverse
in terms of democratic quality, drawing attention to the importance of political
actors’ motivations for, seemingly, rallying to the call for more participatory and
collaborative policy-making. We focus on the national consultations conducted by
Hungary’s Fidesz government between 2010 and 2017, which explicitly justified
these exercises as novel ways to give voice to ‘the people’, but will also seek to
draw parallels with similar practices elsewhere. We assess the national consultations
by employing an analytical framework drawing on five distinct dimensions tapping
into content, process, eects on policy, resource eectiveness and communication
aspects. The selection of Hungary as our main case study is justified by the national
consultations being probably the longest standing and most extensive consultative
practices practiced in contemporary Europe. Most consultations yielded over a million
responses – more than in the case, for instance, of the well-studied (albeit regional)
consultations accompanying devolution in England (for example, Prosser et al, 2017).
In the next section, we first explore participatory, deliberative and collaborative
governance and their discontents, then turn to the literature on populism and
participation. In the third section, we present our analytical and conceptual framework
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
as well as methodological information on the data that was used in the analysis.
We then turn to the country case and cover the national consultations in light of
the analytical framework (the fourth section). The following section discusses the
implications of our findings, and finally a brief sixth section concludes.
Participatory governance and populism
Much normative and empirical research has been carried out over the past decades on
participatory, deliberative and collaborative forms of democracy and governance. The
terms cover partially overlapping phenomena that nonetheless have distinctive focus
areas and are subject to somewhat dierent literatures. Participatory democracy and
governance studies start from the premise that representative democracy’s mechanisms,
notably elections, do not (fully) ensure that the input from those aected by policies,
especially marginalised or vulnerable groups in society, is eectively channelled into
the political process. This is seen as harmful, both normatively, in terms of democracy
not living up to its own ideals, and practically, in terms of output, since channelling
multiple perspectives into policy-making are expected to lead to better outcomes
(for example, Bherer et al, 2016; Ansell et al, 2017). In the participatory democracy
literature, examples often come from the local level, and in studies emphasising
governance rather than democracy the whole vertical and horizontal spectrum of
policy activity is considered for existing or potential participatory practices rather
than just core political institutions.
Deliberative democracy and governance perspectives share these views regarding the
importance of broad participation, but emphasize the process of arriving at decisions in
which reciprocal and gradual exchanges of views and perspectives play a key role (Fung
and Wright, 2003; Ackerman and Fishkin, 2004; Fung, 2006; Newman et al, 2004;
Wright, 2010; Fischer, 2012). The research on collaborative governance incorporated
much of the same themes (for example, Ansell and Gash, 2008; Emerson et al, 2012;
Ansell et al, 2017), but focused more on inter-organisational arrangements than the
involvement of citizens (Agrano and McGuire, 2003; Bingham and O’Leary, 2015).
Common in the participatory, deliberative and collaborative democracy literature
is the – often implicit – assumption that popular involvement is normatively desirable
as something that enhances the legitimacy and democratic quality of policy-making.
This does not mean that the possible downsides of participatory practices have been
entirely neglected. Already in the 1960s Arnstein (1969) highlighted that participation
without redistribution of power risks becoming tokenism or even manipulation.
Potential adverse eects of collaborative arrangements, such as detrimental eects
on transparency and legitimacy or bias towards participants with greater resources or
incapacity to deal fairly with (re)distribution issues, have also been noted, as well as
a general failure to live up to expectations of eciency improvements (for example,
Kester, 2011; Purdy, 2012; Silvia, 2018). Fung (2006) pointed out that citizen
participation is not necessarily always useful in an instrumental sense.
Nonetheless, as for example, Polletta (2016), Dean (2017) or Ganuza et al (2016)
observe, much of the literature is characterised by a normative bias: it tends to
presume that a transformation towards participatory, deliberative and collaborative
governance is overall positive. It also tends to be assumed that when such arrangements
are advocated by policy-makers it is for the sake of altruistic objectives (for example,
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
giving voice to constituents or improving public services) rather than partisan goals
(see also Batory and Svensson, 2017).
In contemporary politics, calls for popular involvement in public life seem to be
more and more common – at least in part because of the powerful wave of populist
mobilisation in the last decades. The election of Donald Trump in the US, and in
Europe Brexit in the UK, and the coming to power of Syriza in Greece, Fidesz in
Hungary, Law and Justice in Poland and the Five Star Movement–League coalition
in Italy showed populism to be, in some countries, a dominant political force. There
is much academic debate about whether populism should be seen as an ideology, a
discourse, a form of organisation, or a political style (for example, Mott and Tormey,
2014). However, consensus seems to be emerging to suggest that populism is first
and foremost a set of ideas (Kaltwasser and Taggart, 2016; Hawkins et al, 2018), or as
Müller (2014, 485) put it, ‘a particular moralistic imagination of politics’. In ideational
terms, populism is a ‘thin-centred ideology that considers society to be ultimately
separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” and “the
corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté
générale (general will) of the people’ (Mudde, 2004, 254).
The central tenet of populism, according to which nothing can stand in the
way of the will of the people as interpreted by the populist leader, is in inherent
conflict with pluralist notions of democracy, whereby majority rule is constrained
by constitutional checks and balances, rights protecting minorities and the rule
of law. The idea that politics should be about the unmediated expression of the
popular will also puts populism at odds with representative democracy (Canovan,
1999, 14; Abts and Rummens, 2007; compare Müller, 2014; Taggart, 2004, 278).
The language of popular sovereignty appeals to ‘the common man and his allegedly
superior common sense’, often in contrast with experts and (other) members of the
elite who are portrayed as out of touch and/or irrelevant (Betz, 1993). This aversion
to representation applies, to some extent, even to populists in government despite
the fact that they, after all, gained power in elections. Populist leaders overcome this
contradiction by ‘claim[ing] to present and proclaim, not to represent, the essentialist
will of the people’ (Abts and Rummens, 2007, 408).
The invocation of popular sovereignty, the impatience with representation, and
the desire to do away with allegedly outdated political institutions create a natural
anity between populism and calls for more participation by citizens. This can be
seen, on the one hand, in populists’ oft-declared admiration for direct democracy,
generally advocated as a way to allow the ‘pure’ people to express policy preferences
without the meddling corrupt elite (Canovan, 1999, 2; Barney and Laycock, 1999,
319). On the other hand, populists often use novel methods of mobilisation and
participation that set them apart from ‘old style politics’, to dierentiate themselves
from traditional, mainstream or conventional political forces (Taggart, 2004, 284).
Indeed, this participatory aspect is sometimes seen to make populism both a threat
and a corrective to democracy (Kaltwasser, 2011). As Abts and Rummens (2007, 416)
argue, the ideal style participation for populists may involve gatherings or political
meetings, where ‘the people express their will by cheering their leaders and acclaiming
the proposals put forward’ – or, in modern times, more conveniently, public opinion
polls or digital/new media technologies. New plebiscitarian methods may include, for
instance, televotes or electronic town hall meetings (Barney and Laycock, 1999, 319).
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
As this discussion illustrates, much of the literature considers the nexus between
populism and participatory democracy in abstract. However, even participatory
enthusiasts acknowledge that assessments of actual participatory arrangements are
in short supply: only by probing the range of outcomes can we ‘move beyond the
sometimes florid claims made both by critics and by champions of participatory
decision-making’ (Polletta, 2016, 234). It is thus crucial to consider actual forays
into popular involvement in politics. The next section outlines the analytical
and methodological approach employed below for assessing Hungary’s national
consultations against the ideals and expectations commonly attributed to participatory
processes in the literature.
Assessing national consultations as participatory instruments
Participatory practices and instruments are frequently evaluated against implicit
or explicit normative standards. For instance, Smith (2009) evaluates a range of
institutions for citizen participation based on inclusiveness, popular control, considered
judgement, transparency, eciency and transferability. There is also a rich scholarship
on EU practices of participatory democracy, which is seen as enshrined in EU law
through Article 11 of the Treaty of Lisbon (Busschaert, 2016, 5). Participation is
frequently evaluated on whether it draws in new voices, allows for the balanced
representation of all aected groups, and ensures transparency and outreach (for
example, Quittkat, 2013; Kohler-Koch and Quittkat, 2013). Rather than directly
utilising either of these existing benchmarks, the analytical framework laid out in Table
1 represents a synthesis. This framework is not only more comprehensive but also has
the advantage that the dimensions are void of normative connotations in themselves,
but nonetheless allow outcomes to be linked to salient normative concepts such as
democratic quality (the content and process dimensions) and legitimacy (especially
the eects, use of resources and communication dimension).
In the following, we apply this framework to national consultations carried out in
Hungary in the period 2010–17. However, before proceeding, it is worth clarifying
what type of practices may qualify as (national) consultations, since the term can be
applied to arrangements ranging from routine external feedback in the legislative
Table 1: Analytical framework
Dimension Normative standard
Content Captures the extent to which the consultation is designed to allow for autonomous
choices that reflect a wide range of possible perspectives on the topic/s. The
inclusion/exclusion of inter-related topics is covered, as are issues of potential bias.
Process Captures the extent to which responses/inputs are processed transparently and
fairly and the capacity of the instrument to give voice to people and social groups
that do not participate, or are not heard in regular representative democracy
Effect Captures the extent to which the exercise has an impact on actual policy design
and decision-making.
Use of resources Captures the extent to which the goals of other dimensions can be achieved at
reasonable cost.
Communication Captures the extent to which the exercise is communicated/portrayed as a way to
improve democratic standards and enhance the legitimacy of the political system.
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
process, meetings with stakeholders on a specific topic, to opinion polls among
voters or supporters of a specific party. For the purposes of this article, national
consultations are considered to be nation-wide in scope, open to all citizens (rather
than organised interests or stakeholder groups), and involve communication in writing
(rather than oral input in meetings, hearings, or deliberate forums). At first glance,
practices that fit this definition may appear similar to the most established form of
direct democracy, namely referendums. However¸ the national consultation is a more
flexible instrument with respect to all dimensions in our analytical framework: it
oers more leeway in terms of formulating questions and format (content); unlike
referendums, it is not subject to stringent procedural safeguards in constitutional
law (process). While referendums may have binding results, consultations are always
advisory (eect), and may potentially be framed in more ‘creative’ ways, again due to
less legal regulation, the lack of path-dependency or other factors (communication).
Consultations are also quicker and cheaper to organise and allow for the use of new
technology, particularly ICT (use of resources).
As for the case study at hand, the key material for the analysis with respect to the
first two dimensions (content and process) consists of the records of the consultations
themselves. For both these dimensions and the remaining three (eects, use of
resources and communication) the analysis also relies on media coverage and party and
government documents contemporary to the consultations to support interpretations.
For the category of communication, a separate text analysis was performed on
all of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speeches in Parliament that touched on the
consultations (18 in total), identified through key-word search using the verbatim
records of Parliament’s plenary sessions in the 2010–14 and 2014–18 terms. Detailed
information on the sources and the timeline of consultations is provided in Annex 1.
The national consultations in Hungary
National consultations in Hungary arguably represent the most established
participatory exercises employed by populist actors in contemporary EU countries,
but they are clearly not the only ones. The populists’ proclivity for (claiming to)
listen to ‘the people’ is also illustrated by Italy’s Five Star Movement, which ‘criticises
representative democracy in the name of direct and deliberative democracy to be
practised through the Internet’ (Diamanti, 2014, 20). Indeed, Gianroberto Casaleggio,
co-founder of the movement, envisaged ‘a kind of web-based direct democracy’ to
replace traditional party politics altogether, and used a social networking site to launch
what became the Five Star Movement (Natale and Ballatore, 2014, 107). More widely,
technology and especially ICT often ‘becomes a tool (and a storyline) to facilitate
the use of direct democracy and the rise of a new form of ‘hyper-representation’
for populists (De Blasio and Sorice, 2018). In 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda
of the populist Law and Justice Party called for a constitutional referendum (later
vetoed by the Senate) based on input from public consultations. More traditional
calls for direct democracy have also contributed to electoral gains for populist parties
in the Czech Republic, where the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party
was unexpectedly successful in 2017 elections, and for Germany’s Alternative fűr
Deutschland (AfD) (Schmitt-Beck, 2017, 140). Outside Europe, recent examples
of populist actors using digital participatory mechanisms include Donald Trump’s
online consultation to inform his 2018 State of the Union Address, with questions
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
such as ‘Do you feel the mainstream media is actively working against the Trump
Administration?’ (Trump, 2018).
Turning to Hungary, the political context in which the national consultations took
place needs some elaboration. The country has attracted wide scholarly attention in
recent years as a prime example of democratic backsliding (for example, Sedelmeier,
2014; Kelemen and Blauberger, 2016; Mechkova et al, 2017). When Hungary joined
the EU in 2004, it was considered as one of the leading reformers among former
communist countries in Central and Easter Europe – a position it has clearly lost
since 2010, when Fidesz entered oce in a landslide electoral victory. Hungary’s
party system had been traditionally characterised by bipolar competition between
two roughly evenly matched camps, one on the centre-right, led since the late
1990s by Fidesz, and one on the centre-left, with the Hungarian Socialist Party at
its core. Following the 2010 elections, Fidesz became the dominant player, with the
Socialists’ splitting and in disarray, and the parliamentary opposition divided between
a number of left/liberal parties on the one hand, and the extreme-right Jobbik on
the other. Having won a qualified majority in the 2010 election, Fidesz lost no time
in augmenting its advantage by completely redrawing the country’s constitutional
order, including the adoption of a new fundamental law, curbing the power of the
constitutional court, appointing Fidesz loyalists to head most nominally independent
agencies, and adopting a new electoral law. The latter was a key ingredient for Fidesz
maintaining power after the 2014 and 2018 elections with a qualified majority in
Fidesz’ electoral victories, however, were also undoubtedly a result of longstanding
party leader and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s masterful reading, and manipulation
of, public opinion, positioning himself and his party as the true defender of ‘the
people’ against a corrupt, liberal-cosmopolitan elite. Although the party is often
referred to as ‘national-conservative’, Fidesz’ status as a leading populist party in
Europe is well-established in the literature (for example, Batory, 2016; Kaltwasser
and Taggart, 2016; Enyedi, 2016; Lendvai-Bainton, 2017; Bozoki and Hegedűs,
2018). It was while in opposition between 2002 and 2010 that, in line with populist
actors’ characteristic critique of representative democracy, Fidesz discovered direct
participatory mechanisms as a rewarding mobilisation strategy: the party organised
an early form of nation-wide consultation and initiated a number of referendums.
Coming to power in 2010, however, the party tamed its enthusiasm for direct
democracy – to the extent that the new constitution it alone supported in Parliament
was not put to a popular vote. Instead, a series of national consultations were launched
(altogether four in the term) (Annex 1), including one on the principles of a new
basic law in February 2011. In an address to Parliament on 28 March 2011, Viktor
Orbán justified this as follows:
[A]t a referendum, what happens is just that people, in a single decision, say
yes or no to a 60-page document without any detailed questions because
there is no opportunity for this. However, in a national consultation there
is the possibility to have, in this case, 12 or 13 questions where they can say
in detail whether they want something or not. In my opinion, a national
consultation involves people in a meaningful way in the making of the
constitution. (Orbán, 2011b)
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
The questionnaire sent to all citizens contained 12 statements on issues of various
political or constitutional salience, including some probably intended as red herrings,
with three or four reaction options to each of them. For instance, one statement
probed attitudes to the idea that parents raising minors should get the right to vote
on behalf of their children. Another suggested that opinion is divided on whether
the new constitution should ‘express the value of Hungarians living across the border
for national cohesion’ and include an obligation for future governments to defend
this value. Nearly one million people returned the questionnaires, with results that
showed some diversity among responses, including some questions not gaining the
support of the majority.2
A few months later citizens had a new chance to provide input through the ‘Social
Consultation’, followed by the ‘Economic Consultation’ in 2012 (Annex 1). Both
contained statements related to a broad spectrum of issues within the respective
domains and resulted in more than a million responses for the first and 700,000 for
the latter. Many of the questions seem to have been designed not simply to solicit
self-evident answers but also to tap into or reinforce common prejudices. For instance,
in Hungary, for many the notion of welfare scrounger is identified with the large
Roma minority (which is overrepresented among the unemployed); similarly, a
not uncommon sentiment is that large multinational companies exploit Hungarian
employees and squeeze out SMEs. The corresponding questions in the consultations
were: ‘There are those who suggest that the country should help the unemployed
by giving them work rather than by giving them benefits. Others think that benefits
are the solution to the problem of unemployment. What do you think?’ (Social
Consultation). ‘There are those who think that the state has to restrain big companies
which are in a monopoly situation. Others think that there is no need for this; it is
ok that the big fish eats the small fish. What do you think?’ (Economic consultation).
Having won another term in 2014, the practice of soliciting public input continued
with three consultations, all relating in various ways to migration and refugee
policy against the backdrop of the refuge crisis that engulfed the EU in 2015. The
aim to connect migration with negative consequences was evident already in the
name of the first consultation, the ‘National Consultation about Immigration and
Terrorism’, which was sent out in May 2015. Unlike the previous consultations
this was not phrased as statements (Some say…, others think…) but as questions,
all framed to be highly prejudicial. For instance, the document (and government
spokespeople) consistently referred to ‘migrants’ or ‘economic migrants’ and not to
refugees or asylum-seekers, thereby diverting attention from the humanitarian crisis
unfolding and portraying people arriving in the EU as invaders or opportunists. A
question asked: ‘Do you agree with the government that instead of allocating funds
to immigration we should support Hungarian families and those children yet to be
born?’, thus construing voters’ economic interests as being directly opposed to those
of the asylum-seekers. This consultation also diered from previous ones in that there
could not be any doubt to anyone which answer was the ‘correct’ one, which was
always listed as the first among three options. Fidesz claimed that about one million
responses arrived to the questionnaire.
These tendencies – leading questions, more and more evident bias in possible
answers, and a clear partisan agenda of mobilisation – continued and strengthened in
the 2017 consultations. The government’s reliance on the accompanying campaigns
may have been reinforced by a, to some extent unsuccessful, experiment with the
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
legally more constraining form of participatory exercise: a referendum in October
2016 on the EU’s mandatory distribution scheme for the relocation of 120,000 asylum-
seekers. Given that there was a binding Council decision on the issue, the referendum
was known to directly lead to a situation where, in case of a valid outcome against
the relocation scheme, the government would be ‘forced’ to disregard the country’s
EU obligations. And the latter is precisely what the intention seems to have been,
since the government’s main campaign slogan was ‘let’s send a message to Brussels
they can understand’. In line with the government’s expectations, an overwhelming
majority of votes cast rejected the possibility for the EU to ‘prescribe the mandatory
settlement of non-Hungarian citizens without Parliament’s authorisation’. However,
turnout was well below the required 50 per cent for a valid result, which was widely
seen as a failure for the government, despite the Prime Minister’s celebratory reception
of the ‘excellent outcome’ (Nepszabadsag Online, 2016).
The government followed up the mixed result with two more consultations in
the term. These contained only six and seven statements respectively, each with two
options out of which the first was ‘correct’. The 2017 ‘Let’s stop Brussels’ National
Consultation was formulated to create or reinforce perceptions of ‘EU meddling’ by
attributing competences and actions to European institutions that, in many cases, were
simply untrue or at least not backed by any evidence. The European Commission
(2017) took the highly unusual step of a public rebuttal, pointing out that ‘several of
the claims and allegations made in the consultations are factually incorrect or highly
misleading’. However, Fidesz claimed that 1.7 million questionnaires were filled out
and returned, the vast majority supporting the government’s positions.
The autumn 2017 consultation contained seven questions about the alleged activities
of Hungarian-born American investor and philanthropist George Soros, which set
the tone for the spring 2018 parliamentary elections. The ‘National Consultation
on the Soros Plan’ included statements such as ‘The aim of the Soros Plan is that the
languages and culture of European countries is pushed to the background, in order
to further the integration of illegal immigrants’, and invited respondents to indicate
whether they supported this part of ‘the plan’ or not. Urging people to participate
in the consultations, Orbán claimed that ‘the bureaucrats in Brussels are working on
implementing this [Soros] plan point-by-point’ (Prime Minister’s Oce Hungary,
2017). The government proclaimed this to be ‘the most successful consultation of
all times’ since 2,356,811 opinions were received (2,178,320 by post and 178,491
online). George Soros (2017) himself stated that ‘the national consultation contains
distortions and outright lies that deliberately mislead Hungarians about [his] views
on migrants and refugees’ and a Hungarian NGO that the Consultation claimed to
have assisted the ‘Soros Plan’ won a court case for defamation.
Assessing the national consultations
Returning to our analytical framework to assess the Hungarian experience, the
consultations clearly did not live up to common normative benchmarks for how
participatory mechanisms should be designed in order to allow for meaningful input.
All seven consultations were plagued by increasing bias in terms of questionnaire
methodology. The questions were framed to make it obvious how the respondent is
supposed to react; some of the questions contained deliberately misleading or false
information (and, as referred to above, were refuted as such by authoritative sources);
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
and they probed for a mix of opinion, factual knowledge and prediction, pointing
to severe deficits of content.
The weakness or absence of procedural guarantees is also evident (process). There
was no information on methodology available to the public and no public archive
of previous consultations. The portal where questions could be submitted online
reportedly allowed multiple submissions by the same individual and did not conform
even to basic data protection standards – to the extent that, unbeknown to users, a
Russian ‘analytical code’ was running on the site (as later established by the National
Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information). Information released
by the government on the number of responses was often contradictory and could
not be verified by independent actors or opposition parties, thus raising doubts
about whether the claimed high response rates were actually truthful or made up. As
to the use of resources, all consultations were accompanied by massive, costly media
campaigns promoting the ‘desired’ outcome, mostly financed from public resources
as public information campaigns, while opponents’ or independent actors’ campaigns
received no public funding, thus further distorting the public debate.
In terms of partisan eects, the consultations were highly successful for Fidesz.
The publicly funded campaigns played a key role in pushing migration to the top of
the political agenda, and keeping it there even after the EU-wide migration crisis
subsided. The consultations drove home a number of messages: one, that ‘migrants’
were undesirable and dangerous; two, that EU criticism of Hungary’s dealing with the
issue was an attack on Hungary’s sovereignty and the ‘Hungarian people’; three, the
EU itself was inept at dealing with the migration crisis; and finally, that an international
conspiracy was in progress to obstruct the will of the Hungarian people (the will
being, according to the government, to prevent in-migration altogether). Support
for Fidesz in opinion polls strengthened considerably from a low point in April 2015
(when the rival Jobbik party seemed to threaten to overtake Fidesz in popularity)
throughout the year, coinciding with the 2015 national consultation and the refugee
crisis. For instance, in the wake of the May 2015 consultation on ‘migration and
terrorism’, the party’s popularity received a major boost (from 24 per cent in March
to 32 per cent of respondents by September); Viktor Orbán’s approval ratings shot
up (from 38 to 44 per cent between May and September); and confidence in the
government strongly improved (from 36 to 43 per cent in the same period) (Hann
and Rona, 2015). In spring 2018, Fidesz won another election following a campaign
almost solely focusing on an anti-immigrant message.
One other long-term eect of the consultations was their contribution to rising
xenophobia. Public sentiment echoed the exact lines propagated by the consultations,
for example, overwhelming majorities agreeing that immigration ‘significantly
increases the risk of terrorism’ or that ‘migrants don’t respect our laws and customs,
they riot, subvert, and act violently’ (78 per cent and 67 per cent respectively). Up
from 66 per cent a year before, 79 per cent of respondents would have liked to be
more restrictive about accepting refugees (Hall and Rona, 2015). By spring 2016,
86 per cent of Hungarian respondents – the highest among the ten EU countries
surveyed – believed refugees are a burden because they take Hungarians’ jobs and
social benefits (Pew Research Center, 2016).
The eects on policy are less clear. The consultations at best seem to have validated
policies already decided on or pursued by government. Nonetheless, Orbán did
try to demonstrate that the national consultations provided actual policy input. For
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
instance, in 2017, after the first five consultations, he claimed that in the consultation
on migration ‘nine tenths of people returning the questionnaire wanted stricter laws
enabling us to take into custody immigrants illegally crossing the border, and this is
how it is today’ (Orbán, 2017b). He also emphasised that the idea that parents should
be able to vote on behalf of their children was not pursued further as a direct result
of opinion expressed in a consultation (Orbán, 2011b).
The claim that controversial policies have been enacted as the ‘will of the people’ is
the main characteristic of communication around the consultations – and it is of course
also a hallmark of populism. On the government’s side, there was a clear tendency to
conflate respondents of the national consultations, and within that those expressing
an opinion in line with the government’s, with ‘the people’ or ‘the Hungarians’. For
instance, following the consultation on migration and terrorism, the Prime Minister
evaluated the outcome as ‘over 80% of Hungarians believe that the immigration
rules of Brussels have failed and regulation needs to be tightened’ (2015). Even if the
accuracy of the figures reported by the government is to be believed, actual responses
to the national consultation numbered about one million in a country of about 10
million citizens. Interpreting this as the ‘common will’ clearly speaks of populism’s
tendency of projecting an image of ‘the people’ as a homogeneous group which,
as in this case, excludes or ignores those members of the national community who
disagree with the populist leader.
The ‘proclamation’ of the general will as expressed by the national consultations
also allowed Viktor Orbán to claim that criticism of his government, and particularly
criticism from abroad, notably the EU, is in fact an attack on ‘the people’, and
consequently that any pressure to change his policies – for instance to comply
with obligations arising from EU membership – was not just unacceptable but also
illegitimate. As he said in Parliament in 2017, ‘[w]e live in times when in Europe the
mainstream political class that considers power as its due condemns [our practice of]
asking questions from the citizens as populism. We Hungarians are again and again
surprised by this [attitude]’ (2017b). He made use of the national consultations vis-
à-vis the EU institutions where he referred to the strong mandate granted to him by
‘the people’: ‘a National Consultation will serve to improve the Hungarian national
position in this battle’, he declared, because it would ‘reinforce the general mandate
given to the governing parties in the last election’ (Government of Hungary, 2017).
Conceptually, the strong link Orbán and his colleagues made between the national
consultations and the ideals of participatory governance is instructive. The Prime
Minister repeatedly justified the practice as an eort to renew outdated political models
and revitalise democracy. In his own words, national consultations ‘have become a new
form of participating in public aairs’; and even the most powerful social ‘movement’
in Hungary (Orbán, 2011b). He also referred to his conviction that democracy needs
to rely on a strong, constant participatory component which is not confined to the act
of delegation through elections. As he said in Parliament, ‘without the participation
of people democratic politics cannot be conducted. For this reason…political forces
that make eorts even between elections to somehow involve people in deciding
the important business of the country should be congratulated, not looked down
on or criticised’ (Orbán, 2011b). This participatory ideal was contrasted with the
‘elitist line’ which Orbán claimed characterised the opposition Socialists while in
government prior to Fidesz, which he summed up as ‘we reform you, even if it kills
you’ (2011a). In other words, the language and ideals of participatory governance
Agnes Batory and Sara Svensson
have been appropriated by the ruling party and put to the service of partisan goals
– without any evidence that the commonly assumed benefits for democratic quality
or policy eciency would have materialised.
Participatory governance enthusiasts often expect, and perhaps with good reason,
that identifying new innovative methods of channelling popular preferences into the
policy process would not only improve policy outcomes but also rejuvenate western
democracies – seen by many as struggling with normative and practical problems
arising from citizens’ alienation from politics. From this point of view, any attempt
to give voice to the people should be seen as welcome, particularly when it comes
to practical ways of ensuring citizen engagement between elections, which, as
critics claim, may be insucient for connecting the voters with their representatives
in a meaningful way. Indeed, existing scholarship demonstrated that participatory
practices can give a boost to democratic quality and legitimacy, notwithstanding the
potential downsides concerning the capacity of particular actors in collaborative and
participatory arrangements to take advantage of the situation.
In this study, we advanced an analytical framework that is well-suited for assessing
whether actual governmental practices in a range of contexts can live up to the
normative ideals associated with participatory governance. The framework taps into
five dimensions that are associated with democratic quality and legitimacy but usefully
break down these concepts into empirically detectable standards. The content criterion
maps the possibility for autonomous choice; the process dimension investigates
transparency and inclusiveness; eect ascertains actual influence on policy-making;
the use of resources considers the costs of the exercise; and, finally, communication
aspects assess the interpretation of the practice’s results by its instigators.
This analytical framework was utilised to review an, in contemporary Europe,
uniquely large-scale and well-established practice explicitly established to provide a new
channel for citizens to provide input into policy-making. The national consultations
in Hungary involved sending out, repeatedly, over 8 million questionnaires to every
household in the country, inviting citizens to express their opinion on burning issues
of the day, which clearly created a potentially important method to give people voice
and enhance legitimacy. However, as designed and practised, the consultations were
deeply flawed with respect to content, process, policy impact and resource eciency.
To mention just the most important shortcomings, the weakness of procedural
guarantees and built-in bias in the framing of questions marks out the consultations
as a political marketing tool rather than a genuine instrument for participation.
Of course, it is no accident that these practices have been observed in a country
which has become a key European example of a populist party in power. However,
the extent to which the country’s government justified the national consultations
through the narrative of participatory governance is perhaps more unexpected: the
Prime Minister insisted that the practice grew out of a desire to improve democratic
quality and policy-making through bringing the citizens into the political process.
The Hungarian case suggests that manipulated consultation processes can serve at least
three political purposes: they lend (more) credibility and authority to governments’
claims of merely serving the popular will while following their essentially partisan
agenda; they provide eective ammunition against criticism, particularly from the
The use and abuse of participatory governance by populist governments
international arena; and they provide opportunity for shaping public opinion through
propaganda and political marketing ‘dressed up’ as participatory governance. The
case is also instructive in terms of machine politics: the actual methods through
which populist leaders can get the upper hand over mainstream parties by (better)
responding to the genuine desire of ordinary people to be heard. What the national
consultations provided was an outlet for this desire, which explains why so many
people did indeed fill in the questionnaires.
A broader lesson to be drawn from this analysis is that participation is normatively
neutral: it can be a boost to legitimacy, democratic quality, and policy responsiveness,
but also the opposite. In particular, participatory exercises married with populism can
have large-scale eects on national policy and politics that empty out and manipulate
the ‘will of the people’ for partisan goals. Indeed, it is only in their proper context
that participatory processes can be convincingly evaluated and interpreted: in
Hungary, recent sweeping changes to the country’s constitutional order, the practices
and institutions of democracy, policy-making and public administration are key to
understanding how national consultations could come to replace ‘ordinary’ policy-
making and accountability mechanisms.
Thus, our conclusion is that scholars of participatory governance need to be more
aware not just of the uses, but also the abuses, of public input, while scholars of
populism should pay more attention to the actual practices populist actors employ
in order to gain or maintain power. Indeed, a key question for scholarship is to
ascertain the extent to which populists’ claims to be more responsive to public
preferences on particular policy issues is instrumental in these actors’ (continuing)
electoral success. More rigorous assessments of the political and policy consequences
of specific participatory practices, particularly when employed by populist actors,
would likewise be worthwhile avenues for further research.
This work was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation
programme under grant number 726840. The authors declare that there is no conict
of interest.
1 Quotations from Viktor Orbán are all from Parliament’s records for the given date,
unless otherwise specied.
2 Since there is no ocial archive of national consultation results, the response rates are
from various news items referring to gures mentioned by government spokesmen (see
Annex 1).
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Annex 1
National consultations in Hungary, 2010–18: Timeline and sources
Date Consultation Scope/issue Sources and
about Pensions
An open question to 1.7 million households
with pensioners asking them to return
their opinions on what social policies the
government should pursue.
Origo, 2010;
Kovacs, 2017;
Origo, 2017
about the
Twelve questions about the new constitution
being drafted, for example whether the new
constitution ‘should express the value of
the Hungarians living across the border for
national cohesion’.
Government of
Hungary, 2012;
Index, 2011;
Origo, 2017;
Szájer, 2011
May 2011 Social
Ten questions concerning elderly care
and pensions, mortgage, public service,
employment and education. For example,
‘There are those who suggest that the
country should rather help the unemployed
by giving them work than by giving them
aid. Others think that aid is the solution to
the problem of unemployment. What do you
Government of
Hungary, 2012;
Origo, 2017;
Szijjártó, 2011;
Orbán, 2011d
Sixteen questions on broad set of policy
issues, including raising minimum wages,
family support, what forms social assistance
at the local level should take, and the value
of pensions. For example, ‘There are those
who think that the state has to restrain the
big companies which are in a monopoly
situation. Others think that there is no need
for this; it is ok that the big fish eats the
small fish. What do you think?’
Government of
Hungary, 2012;
Fidesz, 2012;
Origo, 2017;
Orbán, 2011c
May 2015 National
and Terrorism
Twelve questions, for example, whether
the respondent ‘supports the Hungarian
government’s efforts to introduce stricter
immigration policies despite the easy politics
of Brussels’.
Fidesz, 2015;
Origo, 2017;
Orbán, 2015
April 2017 Let’s Stop
Six questions, on different policy areas,
regarding plans attributed to the EU. For
example, ‘Recently one terror attack followed
another in Europe. Despite this, Brussels
wants to force Hungary to let in illegal
immigrants. According to you, what should
Hungary do?’
Kolozsi, 2017;
2017; Orbán,
2017a and
about the Soros
Seven questions with two answer options
related to George Soros’ alleged activities.
For example, The aim of the Soros Plan is
that the languages and culture of European
countries is pushed to the background, in
order to further the integration of illegal
immigrants. You support this part of the
Soros Plan?’ Questionnaire also offered
Government of
Hungary, 2018;
Orbán, 2018
... There are works that focus on the effects of populist policies on the economy and some policy indicators (Dornbusch & Edwards, 1990, 2007Funke et al., 2020;Peters, 2022). Similarly, some studies have provided information about the way populists influence certain policy areas (Albertazzi & Mueller, 2013;Batory & Svensson, 2019;Caiani & Graziano, 2022). Some authors suggest populism is changing the way evidence is used in the making of policies (Borins, 2018;Head & Banerjee, 2020). ...
... Others have shown populist governments affect public sector innovation (Borins, 2018) and governance arrangements (e.g., network-based or public-private collaborations; Stoker, 2019). A growing number of studies show the damage caused by populist governments on the administrative infrastructure of countries as varied as the USA (Goodsell, 2019;Moynihan & Roberts, 2021a, 2021bMoynihan, 2022aMoynihan, , 2022bRockman, 2019), Hungary (Batory & Svensson, 2019;Hajnal, 2021;Hajnal & Boda, 2021), or Brazil (Guedes-Neto & Peters, 2021Peci, 2021). ...
... In terms of policy formulation, Borins (2018Borins ( :1862 argues that populists usually do not collect information on what they see as 'non-priorities,' regardless of how important the topics may be. Batory and Svensson (2019) have demonstrated that a populist government can distort public consultations to produce whatever information they want. Stoker (2019:11) has noted populists do not tend to 'respect core features of politics,' such as 'the complexities of implementation.' ...
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... Research has previously demonstrated that national consultations in Hungary were deeply flawed when it came to securing genuine popular input on policy making if evaluated based on content, process, effect, resource efficiency and communication (Batory and Svensson, 2019c). Unlike the fears and debates surrounding the use of information technology by authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China, the Hungarian consultations have been surprisingly old school, with physical mass mailing and posters playing prominent roles. ...
... However, there has also been the possibility to participate by filling in the questionnaire online, something which has received less attention. The intersection between populism and participatory governance demonstrates that participatory governance enthusiasts need 'to be more aware not just of the uses, but also the abuses of public input' (Batory and Svensson, 2019c). However, the addition of an online component has not been the subject of research and thus constitutes the focus of this study. ...
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... During the first wave, the opposition tried to politicize the "state of danger", while the government aimed to depoliticize the issue accusing the opposition once again for being anti-Hungarian, part of a "Soros network" (3 April 2020, Kossuth Rádió) infamously arguing that "we will solve this crisis without you" (23 March 2020, Parliament). In the preparation phase afterwards, the government tried to dominate the agenda with the National Consultation asking people's opinion about measures they deemed relevant and acceptable in a potential second wave, which was criticized by the opposition, claiming the government was pushing the responsibility to the people in dealing with the crisis, and that-similar to previous instances of the consultation-the questions were not relevant, and the answers directed (Bátory & Svensson, 2019;Csehi, 2019). During the second wave, the reintroduction of the "special legal order", and the new legislation on health services (with increased salaries for doctors, etc.) were politicized. ...
Estonia successfully curbed the spread of COVID-19 in spring 2020. The government reacted relatively rapidly to the crisis outbreak, declaring an emergency situation on March 12 and introducing measures such as closing schools, banning public gatherings, and restricting movement across borders. Saaremaa, the largest island and the epicenter of the virus, was isolated. A 2 billion-euro aid program was launched, including labor market support, sickness benefits, and tax incentives. Adjustment to the emergency situation was alleviated by Estonia’s advanced digital society. Levels of public compliance with the restrictions were, in general, high. While the government’s handling of the crisis is considered successful overall, the emergency situation facilitated the concentration of power in the hands of the executive. In a situation where normal parliamentary and societal debate were hampered, the government pushed through legislative proposals concerning migration, environment, and social affairs that extended beyond the immediate needs of the pandemic and that undermined democratic values.
... During the first wave, the opposition tried to politicize the "state of danger", while the government aimed to depoliticize the issue accusing the opposition once again for being anti-Hungarian, part of a "Soros network" (3 April 2020, Kossuth Rádió) infamously arguing that "we will solve this crisis without you" (23 March 2020, Parliament). In the preparation phase afterwards, the government tried to dominate the agenda with the National Consultation asking people's opinion about measures they deemed relevant and acceptable in a potential second wave, which was criticized by the opposition, claiming the government was pushing the responsibility to the people in dealing with the crisis, and that-similar to previous instances of the consultation-the questions were not relevant, and the answers directed (Bátory & Svensson, 2019;Csehi, 2019). During the second wave, the reintroduction of the "special legal order", and the new legislation on health services (with increased salaries for doctors, etc.) were politicized. ...
Overall, Belgium’s governance of the pandemic showed elements of continuity and some—perhaps lasting—changes. The early phases of the pandemic triggered cooperative intergovernmental relations to take containment measures and urgent health policies, with an uncontested leading position at the federal level. Yet, with respect to economic measures and between the peaks of the pandemic, the diverging positions between regions and political parties re-emerged, partially reinstalling the politicised relations. In addition, the dominant position of executives over parliaments was strengthened during the pandemic, while experts and courts popped up as active players.
... In this way, there are no messy issues or ambiguity in attempting to satisfy different swathes of the population, as the populists are the representatives of the people and can be dealt with instead. Much as with political governance (Batory and Svensson, 2019), populists have thus appropriated the language of participation (namely, stakeholder capitalism) and inverted it for their own ends. ...
Populism is an ideologically fluid political vehicle which increases political risk and forces firms to adapt. As populist parties claim to speak exclusively for the people, any activities that could be perceived as going against populist ideals or leaders are problematic from the corporate point of view. These obligations need not require firms to actively support the populist party or to champion causes dear to the populists, as they may simply expect that firms refrain from challenging the status quo. But these expectations can alter firm operations and planning, particularly intangible activities such as corporate social responsibility, making a firm divert resources away from what it may desire to compete in the economic marketplace and forcing it instead to compete in the social and political marketplace. In this paper, we explore these obligations imposed on firms and term them corporate political responsibility (CPR), a specific type of corporate political activity imposed from the outside. Through our examination, we find that CPR is the dark side of stakeholder capitalism, with the use of state power claiming rights within the marketplace that are not theirs to claim.
Mainstream western-centric welfare state research has mostly confined itself to studying social policy in consolidated democracies and tends to assume a synergy between democracy and the welfare state. This article shifts the focus to welfare states in countries with declining democratic institutions and rising right-wing populist rule to explore a complex relationship between (de)democratization and welfare state reforms. We conduct a comparative case study of two extreme cases of democratic decline, Turkey and Hungary. We employ a sequential mixed method approach. First, we assess welfare efforts in the two countries to understand which policy areas were prioritized and whether autocratizing governments retrenched or expanded their welfare states. In the second stage, we explore the trajectory of welfare reforms in Hungary and Turkey, focusing on three analytically distinguishable dimensions of social policy change: policy content, policy procedures (including timing, parliamentary procedures, veto players); and the discourses accompanying reforms. We find that democratic decline facilitates rapid welfare state change but it does not necessarily mean retrenchment. Instead we observe ambivalent processes of welfare state restructuring. Common themes emerging in both countries are the rise of flagship programmes that ensure electoral support, a transition towards top-down decision-making and the salient role of discourse in welfare governance. Overall, similarities are stronger in procedures and discourse than in the direction of reforms. Differences in spending levels and policy content do not suggest that the two cases constitute a coherent illiberal welfare state regime. Instead, we see the emergence of authoritarian features that modify their original welfare models.
This chapter provides a concise summary and political assessment of the measures the Hungarian government initiated in the fight of the first three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. The responses included a legal and political adaptation process with a controversial “Authorization Act”, the strengthening of the healthcare system, social restrictions, economic policies with contested results and a vaccine policy triggering public and political criticism for acquiring Chinese and Russian jabs. Overall, the chapter argues that the policies of the Hungarian government reflected the populist political agenda of the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. He used the pandemic (1) to further accuse the domestic opposition and the EU with acting against “the will of the Hungarian people”, (2) to further weaken the system of checks and balances through the adoption of a controversial “special legal order” to avoid hurdles in carrying out “the will of the people”, (3) to initiate policies which discriminated against opposition-controlled municipalities (i.e. “the undeserving non-people” in populist terms) and (4) to claim once again that the government represented “the people” as it listened to their voice expressed in National Consultations on pandemic responses and re-opening strategies.KeywordsHungaryPopulistPolitics
Collaborative governance is a promising supplement to traditional Weberian bureaucracy and New Public Management. However, the legitimacy and accountability of collaborative governance processes and outcomes is questionable. Based on a comprehensive mapping of the scholarly literature, we show that the sweeping multiplicity of accountability and legitimacy conceptions, types and critiques is structured by two democratic logics: an electoral one revolving around the territorial state and a stakeholder one focused on the collaborative network. The article provides the first attempt to position the conceptions, types and critiques of the accountability and legitimacy of collaborative governance in one map.
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This chapter provides a case study of the use of online platforms for national consultations in Hungary. The Hungarian government, since 2010 led by the national-conservative populist party Fidesz, has carried out the most extensive series of consultations in contemporary Europe. The consultations are dominantly conducted by questionnaires mailed to households, but recent consultations have also offered an online platform. Drawing on previous research on what happens when populist actors employ and institutionalize participatory methods (Batory and Svensson, 2019c), we extend the inquiry to include the use of an electronic platform. We find that the online component has so far not led to new dynamics, and to the limited extent that it had any effect, it has largely been negative in terms of procedural guarantees. Due to the weakness of technology to prevent abuse, the online version of the consultation eroded rather than enhanced the credibility of the consultation process. The case study serves as a cautionary tale to those believing that e-participation practices ‘by default’ lead to superior normative and/or policy outcomes.
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In recent years, the scientific debate on populism has experienced a new momentum: on the one hand, the emergence of new populisms even in Western democracies and on the other hand, disagreement among scholars on the definition of populism. In this context, new trends have emerged—such as those concerning the link between populism and technology—along with the need to revise the traditional study paradigms, which are often difficult to operationalise. The transformation of the political sphere appears to be strongly interconnected with the digital media landscape. If the new forms of communication are the cause or the effect of processes, such as the personalisation of leadership, the verticalisation of political organisations, the presidentialisation of political parties, or the social de-legitimisation of the old “intermediate bodies”, these forms should be the subject of ongoing research. At the same time, a very simplistic storyline tries to overlap the rise of neo-populist parties with their use of communication technologies. A quality that is common to the many different populisms is an appeal to the use of direct democracy as a tool to empower citizens. Populism itself is sometimes portrayed as almost synonymous with direct democracy. At the same time, direct democracy is used by populists as a critique of the lack of participation in representative democracy and the need to make it more participatory. In this perspective, technology becomes a tool (and a storyline) to facilitate the use of direct democracy and the rise of a new form of “hyper-representation”. At the same time, concepts such as efficiency, privatisation, short-termism, newism, and meritocracy are keywords successfully used by populist leaders, technocracy élites and neo-liberal political leaders. In other words, we can highlight a strange meeting between technological storytelling about direct democracy and technocracy myths. Even among the new populist parties, the technopopulists appear to represent an important category, whose peculiarities can easily be put into evidence using some empirical tools (such as content analysis). The aim of this article is to investigate the relationships between technocracy, direct democracy’s storytelling and hyper-representation as a distinctive characteristic of neo-populisms.
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Democracy is facing challenges across the world, yet suggestions of a global crisis are not warranted. Based on data from the largest democracy database ever compiled, the Varieties of Democracy Project (V-Dem), we find that the number of democracies worldwide declined slightly from 100 in 2011 to 97 today, and 16 countries transitioned to democracy over the last ten years, including Tunisia, Nepal, and Nigeria. However, there is a fair degree of volatility. In 2013 alone, five countries transitioned to democracy but nine went the other way. Worrisome trends include gradual erosion of freedom of expression and association in several countries, among them Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and Brazil. © 2017 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press.
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The current process of devolving powers within England constitutes a significant change of governance arrangements. This process of devolution has been widely criticised for including insufficient consultation. This paper assesses whether that criticism is fair. Modifying Archon Fung’s framework for the analysis of public participation mechanisms, we begin by considering whether the depth of public engagement has been limited. Then, by comparing these consultation practices with other examples (including one we have ourselves trialled in pilot experiments), we find that deeper forms of public engagement would have been both possible (though at some financial cost) and productive.
Collaboration has become the predominant approach to solving complex public problems. This choice, however, often is not driven by demonstrated effectiveness. Collaboration is instead chosen in the hope that a networked arrangement will be more effective than individual organizations working on the issue alone. Questions regarding collaborative effectiveness persist and constitute a significant challenge facing both public management practitioners and public administration scholars. In light of the case study in this issue of Public Administration Review by Maurits Waardenburg and colleagues, this article reviews the current thinking on the measurement of collaborative performance and discusses steps that professionals can take to evaluate the effectiveness of their collaborative endeavors.
We offer a fresh perspective on implementation problems by suggesting that collaborative policy design and adaptive policy implementation will help public policy makers to improve policy execution. Classical implementation theories have focused too narrowly on administrative stumbling blocks and New Public Management has reinforced the split between politics and administration. Attempts to improve policy implementation must begin by looking at policy design, which can be improved through collaboration and deliberation between upstream and downstream actors. We provide a broad overview of how collaborative policymaking and adaptive policy implementation might work in theory and practice.
Can we design institutions that increase and deepen citizen participation in the political decision making process? At a time when there is growing disillusionment with the institutions of advanced industrial democracies, there is also increasing interest in new ways of involving citizens in the political decisions that affect their lives. This book draws together evidence from a variety of democratic innovations from around the world, including participatory budgeting in Brazil, Citizens’ Assemblies on Electoral Reform in Canada, direct legislation in California and Switzerland and emerging experiments in e-democracy. The book offers a rare systematic analysis of this diverse range of democratic innovations, drawing lessons for the future development of both democratic theory and practice.
There have been waves of enthusiasm for citizen participation before. I discuss several features that make the current one distinctive: Its scale and scope, its reliance on modes of collaboration made familiar by digital media, its dependence on coalitions of actors, within and outside the state, for its effects, and its professionalization in techniques of facilitated discussion. I focus on the latter, exploring how professionals’ understandings of the aims and limits of participation sometimes conflict with those of participants. More broadly, I argue for a better understanding of how models of participation diffuse across institutional settings and with what effects.