Chavez, who has been in Cuba on and off during the past several months completing treatments for cancer, is running for re-election. He has been largely out of the public eye since leaving Venezuela for treatment in February. (Chavez returned to Venezuela earlier this week after his latest round with the Cuban physicians.) His Twitter messages range from idle topics like sports to major political issues. Most of the tweets proclaim that he will return soon, strong and healthy.
His political opposition has also joined the Twitter conversation. Some critics accuse Chavez of ruling via Twitter. Others spread rumors of his death. To keep abreast of the news, Venezuelans are increasingly turning to Twitter. Chavez has more than 2 million followers there.
Not to sound too much like a science fiction writer, but could this be the future of government? Everything is electronic. Leaders don’t need to travel. International summits like the G-20 are held virtually and the State of the Union addresses are condensed to 140-character morsels.
That might be too extreme, at least for the near future. Chavez, recovering from cancer, is obviously a special case. But I think the world is certainly moving in this direction, at least toward greater online engagement. The United States is a good example of politics meeting the internet. President Barack Obama embraced online discourse beginning with his 2008 campaign. He has also held exclusive interviews on YouTube.
While these are valuable efforts, they don’t replace all of what a politician does. Elected officials have a responsibility to meet with their constituencies. There is a level of accountability that comes with face-to-face interactions.
With that being said, there would be benefits to moving more political discourse online, namely the greater inclusion of civil society. The internet puts everyone on an even playing field. Citizens can interact with their governments in real time and without bureaucratic obstacles. With more politics conducted online, democracy could function every day instead of every four years.
(The photo is from the Cuban state-run newspaper and website Juventud Rebelde and is in the public domain.)