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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Porn, beer and democracy

Former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and his party, PiS, are not exactly known for thier penchant for technology. But some might be surprised to know that the former PM – who has no driving license and shares a bank account with his mother – has his very own weblog, or blog.

Yet despite indulging in this relatively modern form of expression, Mr Kaczyński still managed to show his complete lack of understanding of the world wide web, when on his blog he derided the idea of implementing internet voting in Poland.

Mr Kaczyński said that voting should be a “serious, conscious [activity], demanding a certain effort.” He added, “I am not enthusiastic about a young man sitting in front of a computer, watching films, pornography, sipping a beer and voting when he feels like it.”

Leaving aside the obvious irony of making this type of statement on a blog, let's be clear about one thing: Increasing the ease by which citizens can participate in a democracy is always a good thing. One wonders if in contemplating the young man with his beer and pornography, Mr Kaczyński also took time to consider the invalid who leaves her home with great difficulty or the displaced employee who works far away from his registered home.

Certainly, there are valid concerns about the security of e-voting – but that was not the issue that
the former PM raised. Mr Kaczyński's concern seems to center around a certain “decorum” that he believes voters ought to maintain when voting. This is laughable. After all, there is nothing to prevent any citizen from attending a polling station after having downed several whiskey sours and with a Playboy magazine tucked deftly into his back pocket.

Recent opinion polls have shown Mr Kaczński's PiS party trailing badly, despite heaps of criticism piled on the governing PO party for getting little done. Indeed, PO's support has increased since last October's elections. But PO has offered precious little for voters to support – instead, voters seem to favor PO simply by virtue of their not being PiS.

With the former PM's recent statements, it's little wonder – they show how out of touch he is with the vast majority of Polish society, which is becoming ever more plugged in to the information superhighway at an astounding rate. For years now, Poles have been doing business online, as well as banking, blogging, connecting with friends, sharing photos and even shopping for groceries. That the former PM still sees the average “internaut” as a pimply porn-downloading teen is depressing, and enough to make Poles who find the internet essential to their daily lives seethe.

But therein lies the rub – most of plugged-in Poland already finds PiS' old-fashioned ideas anachronistic, and didn't vote for them in October. PiS' constituency lies with the rural voters who feel left behind by Poland's modernization. But with the internet extending its tentacles ever further into even the deepest Polish backwoods, Mr Kaczyński may soon find that such statements undermine his credibility with his own voters.

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