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E-democracy consists of two sub-areas: e-voting and e-participation. While e-democracy is the use of technology for strengthening the mechanisms of democratic decision making, e-voting and e-participation focus on the means for doing this. In e-participation, involvement of citizens in the policy process may give rise to two different sets of relationship between citizens and policy makers. The first is a vertical relationship in which policy makers use the speed and immediacy of information technology networks to consult citizens on various policy issues. The second is a more complex, horizontal and multi-directional interactivity in which citizens and groups will be able to make use of information available from multiple online sources to bring pressure to bear on their government. The latter may also take the form of e-activism or the use of ICTs by civil society organisations to advocate their view points and influence political or policy process.

There have been many initiatives to use information technology to strengthen the democratic process through e-voting and e-participation. However, the number of such initiatives lags significantly behind the administrative-based e-government service and portal efforts. The United Nation’s E-government Survey-2008 shows that while all but three of the 192 UN member states offer at least some services online, only 11 per cent of them have incorporated online consultation as a feature. Further, most of the e-democracy initiatives are launched in developed democratic countries of the West. Studies have shown that the impact of ICT-enabled democratic initiatives has been very meagre so far. Online participants are often well educated and already politically active. Going online by itself, therefore, does not give rise to a more inclusive democratic process. Some studies have also shown that politicians’ desire to provide for or participate in online decision making may be symbolic, that is, focussed more on visibility than on handing over responsibility or power to citizens.

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