This series of articles covers the anti-disinformation campaigns in three Central and Eastern European countries, where ECAS aimed to build the capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to address disinformation narratives or build resilience against these. Because of the region-specific challenges, which are both a precondition for and a result of declining rule of law and democratic values, the new ECAS branch in CEE is tasked with tailoring more than 30 years of expertise and building new knowledge to address these challenges. The article below presents the outcomes of this initiative in Slovenia. You can find the articles covering the campaign in Bulgaria and the one in Hungary at the respective links or at the bottom of this page.
In Slovenia, ECAS partnered with the largest nonformal civil society network, Glas Ljudstva (Voice of the People) for the campaign. They were formed to confront the deteriorating state of democracy in the country, drive electoral participation and hold polititians accountable to their promises towards people’s priorities. To achieve this, they establish structural communication and cooperation with the government and carry out advocacy and campaigning for priority demands to be implemented. Glas Ljudstva uses an online tool (volitvomat.si), which functions as a political compass that connects voters with candidates based on their answers to priority demands. More than 100 civil society organizations are members of Voice of the people initiative – professional organizations in the fields of democracy, human rights, environmental protection, social affairs, labour, housing policy, media, culture, infrastructure, global justice, health, education, the economy and other key areas. Out of these, several forming the core were in charge of the campaign under the coordination of Sindikat Mladi Plus.
The coalition already had a clear mission – to engage polititians and voters in a meaningful communication before elections, where content is at the center of debate and people are informed on candidates’ stances. The subject of the campaign in Slovenia was
The objectives of the campaign were twofold. On the one hand, To increase election turnout by fostering dialogue between voters, candidates and civil society in both presidential and local elections and, on the other, to address any backtracking on government’s commitments made before the parliamentary elections.
The campaign was partly awareness-raising and partly narrative-change: by raising awareness in social media and offline the coalition addressed the lack of understanding of the presidential functions and the jurisdictions of city/municipal councils at the respective elections. By using the online participation tool to connect voters to candidates, the coalition aimed to foster accountability, trust and truth in the democratic process, based on policy priorities. Because of the constant monitoring of the implementation of government promises, the coalition launched a sub-campaign against new initiatives related to the public healthcare system.
For the presidential elections Glas Ljudstva developed the online tool Volitvomat to be used to connect voters with presidential candidates. Firstly, candidates answered 30 questions that relate to the powers of the president and the values he/she defends. The questions were also used to check their position on important social issues from various fields: foreign policy, human rights, rule of law, defence, judiciary, environment, economy, healthcare, media, culture and the performance of presidential functions. Afterward, their answers were compiled into profiles for each one. When citizens visit the platform they are presented with the same questions, the answers to which were compared to those of candidates, so as to provide a percentage of overlap with their priorities. From the 8 presidential candidates, 7 participated in Volitvomat. In total 46.000 people used this tool before the presidential elections, and the page had 1.200.000 views. In addition, a presidential debate, a social media campaign and printed materials reached to approximately 20,000 citizens.
For the local elections, the same strategy was followed, although, because of the nature of the elections, no public debate was organised. The online and offline campaigns reached more than 25,000 citizens. Again, the online tool, volitvomat.si was adapted to connect voters to candidates on municipal level, which proved to be much more challengeing due to the large number of municipalities and candidates: candidates of the 212 Slovenian municipalities to answer the questionnaire, and be a part of the Volitvomat. Only 145 candidates from 83 municipalities responded. In many municipalities there was only one mayor candidate, so they didn’t feel the need to address the voters and to present their positions, since they had no competition. The tool was used by 8,600 voters and was viewed a total of 152,000 times. There was little to no coverage from the media on the online tool for the local elections, in line with the overall limited media interest in these elections. This, along with the limited participation of local candidates in Volitvomat, explains the lower number of citizens who made use of it.
🧵⬇️#glasljudstva se sliši vse do Bruslja!
Zasledili smo, da je evropski poslanec dr. @MilanZver na Evropsko komisijo naslovil poslansko vprašanje glede financiranja naših aktivnosti, ki jih tako on kot predsednik njegove stranke @strankaSDS opisujeta kot ‘ekstremistične’. pic.twitter.com/yoQ13WXnhH
— Glas Ljudstva (@glasljudstva) November 18, 2022
In conclusion, the campaign of Glas Ljudstva succeeded in bringing together citizens and politicians on the basis of content, as is evident by the participation of tens of candidates and more than 1,350,000 who visited the page and the 50,000 users of the Volitvomat platform. They managed to create media attention around the tool and established it as a trusted source of information and consultation before elections. Although not directly or exclusively due to the success of the tool, its wide popularity (compared to the total population of Slovenia, approx. 2,1 million) and media popularity can be partly correlated to the higher voter turnout for presidential elections than in the years before. In 2017, voter turnout in the first round was 44,24%, and for the second round only 41,81%. This year the voter turnout for presidential elections was 51,74%, and 53% for the second round. Similarly, less media interest, lack of recognition of the Volitvomat by a majority of candidates at local elections, and limited capabilities of the coalition to reach all municipalities can be counted as some of the contributing factors to the voter turnout of 47,64%. This is lower than it was in the year 2018, when it reached 51,18%.
The long term effects of the campaign are multiple. Firstly, the monitoring of political promises will be an ongoing process that will provide citizens and civil society with an accountability mechanism and serve as a preventive measure against electoral disinformation and populist narratives. Secondly, the newly- developed iterations of the Volitvomat for the local and presidential elections will be used to the same effect for future elections as a tool for political transparency.