In recent years, citizens so frustrated with their governments slapped their elected officials (e.g. in Nepal and India), set themselves on fire outside state offices (e.g. Tunisia, Greece), launched mass protests against specific policies (e.g. Chile, Portugal, UK) and brought down entire regimes (e.g. MENA). 2014 was not remarkably different. This year we witnessed similar anti-government sentiment expressed in some form all over the world -- from the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, to the inflation-triggered backlash against President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and the Euromaidan protests that brought down President Viktor Yanukoyvch in Ukraine, to recurring anti-austerity protests in various countries in the EU.
What does this all mean? What we've been witnessing is the decline of state-society relations in which citizens no longer believe in their leaders, governments or certain policies -- and they are speaking out in violent and non-violent ways. There's a recurring feeling that there must be a better, more legitimate way to govern. Technology has just made it that much easier to keep tabs on government and to mobilize more citizens more quickly to respond. This means even if policies are in place that can actually help, the ongoing legitimacy crisis won't necessarily allow for policies to deliver the intended result. After all, to a certain extent, policies do need support of the citizenry to move forward.
Will this continue in 2015? Of course it will. Russia is heading for recession which means we will see anti-Putin protests resurface until the economy finds its footing. Myanmar's fall election is not expected to allow democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to run, which means the pro-democracy movement will grow. The EU countries will not suddenly move away from austerity policies, which means citizens will continue to protest, notably in Greece, Belgium and Spain. We can expect some kind of protest, especially from Tamil and Muslim minority groups, if President Mahinda Rajapaksa manages to win the election in January in Sri Lanka, given concern over his autocratic ways. Leaders and citizens are going to continue to disconnect all over the world.
Is there a way to reduce such anti-government protest to improve state-society relations? The simplest solution, but also the toughest, is to make governance more inclusive. And crowdsourcing -- i.e. using the wisdom of a crowd of citizens to make policy -- could be one way to achieve this. This technological approach to domestic policymaking was attempted in Iceland with its constitution -- over 50 percent of the population offered their views through Facebook and Twitter. It didn't quite work out the way we hoped, but it's a start. It did, however, work in Finland with the passage of a new law -- yes, it was just an off-road traffic law in a relatively stable country, but the point is it worked. Let's put some academics and PhD researchers to work to study what worked there before we apply it to policymaking in other countries where tensions between government and citizens are notably high. Crowdsourcing could be an innovative way to start to rebuild the relationship between state and society, policymakers and citizens in 2015.
Yes, this will be a hard sell in most countries -- why would ruling elites want to make policymaking more inclusive? This would take away from their own power. And obviously this wouldn't work in a country like Russia where there are no immediate plans to democratize and protests can be quashed rather quickly. But it could be a useful tool in newly democratic states like Myanmar and Sri Lanka where minority religious groups still feel disconnected from a majoritarian government. It could also be a useful tool in countries where citizens have singled out one policy they feel doesn't work -- think of austerity policies in EU countries. If we ask Muslim minorities in Myanmar and Sri Lanka or austerity protesters in Greece and Spain for their input on specific policies, would that help reduce anti-government sentiment and so help leaders to govern? No question, it's worth looking into even if there are sensitivities surrounding this.
But even if it is attempted, who will implement it? If individual governments can't manage it, the UN is a logical back-up, given their recent focus on this technology to do everything from assessing damage caused by the typhoon in the Philippines to generating anti-poverty goals from youth in the next development agenda and overcoming language barriers with refugees globally. There's lots to figure out. But it could potentially be a small way for us to repair the fragile relationship between governments and citizens so leaders can more effectively govern. It could be the first step to pulling us out of this collective legitimacy crisis in countries worldwide. If not, we can only expect more politicians will get slapped, more citizens will rally against specific policies and more protesters will get violent to bring down their leaders in 2015.