By Maria Ivanova
In an age where everyone wants to be young, politicians quickly figured out that speaking to the young meant reaching the whole population. The revolutionary first term pre-election campaign of the acting U.S. President Barack Obama demonstrated the power of appealing to the younger (and youngish) generation.
Obama’s spin-doctors used the digital world to reach each every potential supporter – Twitter and Facebook became the magic wand that gave Barack Obama the “it factor.” The innovative approach is now popular with many European parties. Once snobby and ultimately boring, the political scene has suddenly become entertaining.
Feel like chatting with your politician of choice over a glass of beer? Call Karel Schwarzenberg. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and the leader of the Czech conservative political party TOP09 organized such “beer nights” within the party’s pre-election campaign leading into the 2010 parliamentary elections. The relaxed atmosphere and Schwarzenberg’s laid-back attitude won his party nearly 17 percent of the seats in parliament.
Ever wondered about privacy on Facebook? The German Alliance ‘90/The Greens shares your sentiment. The party, which currently has almost 11 percent of the seats in the Bundestag (German parliament) and was part of the ruling alliance during the two prior sessions of parliament, asks rhetorically: “Facebook, what do you know about me?” The poster features the all too familiar “Like” button, only its thumb points downwards, expressing the grudge against privacy settings on the world’s most famous social network. One wonders what’s next to get onto the list of political parties’ agendas.
How about sex? Aging conservative politicians seem to consider it bad taste talking about sex at the parliamentary meetings. The Lewinsky and Berlusconi scandals didn’t help. But the expanding of human rights and personal freedoms made sure leaving sex out of the political context could only last so long. For a lesson on breaking the ice in a rigid society, get acquainted with progressive Polish politician Janusz Palikot.
The Polish liberal used an adult toy and a gun to make his point on reported sexual abuse by police officers. His political party Palikot’s Movement vows to bring the first transsexual member of parliament in conservative Poland once the action is legalized. The pro-gay marriage party now holds 10 percent of the seats in parliament.
Jumping on the celebrity-powered anti-bullying bandwagon, the Irish People Before Profit party won’t let you be bullied. Instead of protesting against the household and water taxes in Ireland the traditional way, the party brands letters inviting people to register to pay a “bullying” tax. People Before Profit encourages the Irish to ignore “[government official Phil] Hogan and his threatening letters” and call his bluff.
And if getting an Oscar-winning actor (none other than Jeremy Irons) to invite people to vote for you isn’t an achievement on its own, the mayor of the Lithuanian capital Artūras Zuokas decided to show his voters he meant business while protesting against illegally parked cars. The leader of Union TAIP ran over an illegally parked Mercedes Benz with a tank. No surprise, the video of the act made it on the Swedish TV show 99 Things to Do Before You Die.
Closing the list of political parties employing the new approach is, shockingly, the Communist Party of Ukraine. The party with an over 5 percent presence in the acting parliament of the Eastern European country wasn’t shy of getting down and dirty with its slogans for the October 2012 election campaign. “Land is no railroad ho to be sold for dough,” claims the party protesting the bill allowing land sales to foreigners. It is particularly refreshing to see such an approach taking root east of the border of the European Union, in such emerging democracies as Ukraine.
In the future, dropping the formal language of political dialogue and speaking the slang of the actual people will help political parties overcome the spreading epidemic of absenteeism and ignorance. Making politics seem like a cool challenge will not only draw voters in, but also help attract better professionals to public jobs.
Maria Ivanova, with an MA in Political Science, is a journalist at Worldwide News Ukraine.