Primarias en línea y democracia interna en los partidos: Los procesos de selección de candidatos en Podemos y el Movimiento 5 Estrellas

AutorBálint Mikola
CargoCentral European University (CEU), Budapest, HU
IDP No. 24 (February, 2017) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Bálint Mikola
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Submission date: November 2016
Accepted date: January 2017
Published in: February 2017
Online primaries and intra-party
democracy: Candidate selection
processes in Podemos and
the Five Star Movement
Bálint Mikola
Central European University (CEU), Budapest
Online primaries are widely considered as the most inclusive and accessible form of intra-party decision-
making. However, their openness also carries the risk of strengthening parties’ leadership vis-à-vis other
organizational units. In order to test the implications of these procedures on intra-party democracy, this
paper addresses the candidate selection processes of two parties that rely exclusively on online primaries:
Podemos and the Five Star Movement. The analysis combines two perspectives: first, it describes the
rules of candidate selection processes in each party based on party statutes and other party documents,
and second, it tracks the progression of candidates through all stages of the candidate selection process
during the 2013 Italian and the 2015 Spanish general elections on the one hand, and the 2014 European
Parliament elections on the other. Based on these two perspectives, the cases are classified along the
four dimensions established by Rahat and Hazan (2001): candidacy, selectorate, decentralization and
voting/appoint ment systems. The findings indicate that contrary to expectations, the candidate selection
processes were more tightly controlled in Podemos, primarily through the adoption of block voting
that favoured lists headed and supported by the party leader. Moreover, Podemos’ lists of candidates
were substantially modified after the primaries, a pattern not found in M5S. However, due to the tight
restrictions on eligibility and the lack of availability of information regarding the voting rules applied in
the candidate selection process, the Five Star Movement scores worse on inclusiveness and transparency,
which also raises concerns regarding the competitiveness of the contest.
online participation, intra-party democracy, candidate selection, party organization, cyber parties
comparative politics, party politics, party organization
Bálint Mikola
Eloi Puig
IDP No. 24 (February, 2017) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Bálint Mikola
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Online primaries and intra-party democracy…
Primarias en línea y democracia interna en los partidos:
Los procesos de selección de candidatos en Podemos y el
Movimiento 5 Estrellas
Generalmente, la realización de primarias a través de internet se considera la forma más inclusiva y
accesible de toma de decisiones en el seno de un partido. Sin embargo, esta apertura también entraña el
riesgo de reforzar el liderazgo de los partidos frente a otras unidades de la organización. Con la finalidad de
analizar las implicaciones de estos procedimientos en la democracia interna de los partidos, este artículo
presenta los procesos de selección de candidatos de dos partidos que realizan sus primarias exclusivamente
a través de Internet: Podemos y el Movimiento 5 Estrellas. El análisis combina dos perspectivas. En
primer lugar, describe las reglas de los procesos de selección de candidatos en cada partido basándose
en los estatutos del partido y otros documentos del partido. En segundo lugar, examina la evolución de
los candidatos a lo largo de todas las fases del proceso de selección de candidatos durante las elecciones
generales de 2013 en Italia y del 2015, en España, por un lado, y en las elecciones al Parlamento Europeo
de 2014, por otro. Partiendo de estas dos perspectivas, se han clasificado los casos en cuatro dimensiones
establecidas por Rahat y Hazan (2001): candidatura, selectorado, descentralización y sistema de votación
vs. nombramiento. Los resultados indican que, al contrario de lo que se esperaba, los procesos de selección
de candidatos estaban más estrictamente controlados en Podemos, principalmente a través de la adopción
del voto en bloque, que favorecía a las listas encabezadas y apoyadas por el líder del partido. Además, las
listas de candidatos de Podemos fueron modificadas sustancialmente después de las primarias, una pauta
que no se ha observado en el M5S. Con todo y con ello, las fuertes restricciones a la elegibilidad y la falta
de disponibilidad de información sobre las reglas de votación aplicadas en el proceso de selección de los
candidatos conced en al Movimiento 5 Estrellas una peor puntuaci ón en cuanto a inclusi vidad y transparen-
cia se refiere, lo que genera inquietud a su vez en cuanto a las garantías de la competencia en la contienda.
Palabras clave
participación en línea, democracia interna partidos, selección candidatos, organización partidos, ciber-
política comparada, política partidista, organización partidos
1. Introduction
Candidate selection is universally regarded as one of
the party activities that are most decisive for intra-party
democracy (Cross and Katz, 2013; Detterbeck, 2005; Rahat
et al., 2008, Scarrow, 2015). As such, it constitutes an
unparalleled research site for analysing intra-party power
relations between different organizational units within
political parties (Detterbeck, 2005; Pedersen, 2010). In
particular, observing the rules and the execution of candidate
selection processes allows researchers to gain direct insights
into the relationship between what Katz and Mair’s cartel
party thesis calls the “three faces” of party organization:
the par ty in public office, the party in central office a nd
the party on the ground (Katz and Mair, 1993, 1995, 2009).
Arguably, the use of the Intern et in candidate selection
processes intertwine d with a ge neral move towards
inclusiveness in party decision-making (Faucher, 2015;
Gauja, 2015) might have an impact on these power relations.
Such an effect would be most pronounced in organizations
that Margetts called cyber parties which “use web-based
technologies to strengthen the relationship between
voters and party” and offer voters and suppor ters rights
traditionally associated with formal membership (Margetts,
2006, p. 531; Hartleb, 2013). More specifically, due to the
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Online primaries and intra-party democracy…
lower costs of participation (Bennett and Segerberg, 2013;
Bimber et al., 2012), online primaries have the potential of
being both more inclusive and more accessible than offline
However, whether they realize this potential depends
on how the voting procedure is designed and executed. At
the same time, the inclusiveness of intra-party decision-
making can also strengthen the party leadership vis-à-vis
the party intermediary elites (Carty, 2013; Hopkin, 2001; Mair,
2002) and thus foster anti-democratic tendencies within
political parties. Nevertheless, the general interest of this
paper lies in determining the share of power that online
primaries grant ordinary party members and supporters,
i.e. the party on the ground.
Several indicators have been proposed to measure variation
in the extent to which candidate selection is democratic.
One influential formulation applies two concepts: inclusion
(formal eligibility) and access (the procedural costs of voting),
both of which have a crucial impact on the competitiveness
of the process (Scarrow 2015, p. 186-187). However, Rahat and
Hazan (2001) introduced a broader and more comprehensive
set of indicators that can be used for describing the candidate
selection process which corresponds more closely with the
purposes of this paper. Their conceptualization is based on
four dimensions: candidacy, selectorate, decentralization
and voting/appointment systems. These dimensions reveal
answers to the following questions: 1. Who can be selected?
(candidacy); 2. Who selects candidates? (selectorate); 3.
Where (at which organizational level) are the candidates
selected? (decentralization) and 4. How are candidates
nominated? (voting/appointment systems) (Rahat and Hazan
2001, p. 298-299). The candidacy dimension is measured on
a scale ranging from inclusiveness to exclusiveness, and in
that sense it overlaps with Scarrow’s (2015) inclusiveness
indicator. However, Rahat and Hazan’s taxonomy makes
a distinction between passive (candidacy) and active
(selectorate) voting rights, both of which can be measured
on an inclusiveness scale, albeit with different categories,
which allow for more combinations. These combinations
are graphically illustrated in Graph 1.
1. As Rahat and Hazan (2001, p. 302) note: “Levels of accessibility and inclusiveness are higher if a party adopts such methods as postal
ballots, tele-voting or spreading polling stations all over the country”. It seems logical to hold the same assumption with regards to online
voting, which is yet another technical innovation that facilitates participation.
Graph 1. Inclusiveness/exclusiveness along the dimesions of candidacy and selectorate
Graph adopted from Rahat and Hazan (2001, p. 304). Empirical examples were removed from the ori ginal graph, as they do not serve the
purposes of the current discussion.
Party Members
+ Additional
Party Members
All Citizens
Electorate Party
Party Agency
Party Agency
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With regards to decentralization, Rahat and Hazan distinguish
between functional and territorial decentralization. While
this is a theoretically sound proposition, this paper can
only benefit from the latter as none of the cases addressed
here organize representation based on social/professional/
sectorial subunits.
In terms of territorial decentralization,
cases can be distinguished on the basis of whether
candidates are selected at the local, the regional or the
national level.
Finally, candidate selection processes can be distinguished
based on the voting procedures they apply. In Rahat and
Hazan’s (2001) terminology, the procedures applied only
constitute a pure voting system if 1. all of the candidates are
only determined by votes, not a majoritarian or unanimous
approval of closed lists, and 2. voting results are officially
presented in order to provide legitimacy. Procedures at the
other extreme can be defined as “appointment systems”,
while in-between cases where for instance en bloc voting
for pre-estab lished lists is allowe d constitute “appointm ent-
voting systems” (Rahat and Hazan, 2001, p.306). I
suggest that calling these latter systems “mixed” is more
practical (as shown in Table 1). Nevertheless, the use of an
intermediate category will be crucial for our cases. Voting
systems can be further differentiated using two parameters.
According to the rules for the allocation of positions, we can
distinguish between proportional (PR), semi-proportional
(semi-PR), semi-majoritarian and majoritarian systems.
Furthermore, voting procedures can be categorized on the
basis of whether they select all of the candidates in one
or multiple rounds. For a comprehensive summary of all
logically possible combinations of appointment and voting
systems, see Table 1.
2. Data collection strategy
The analysis presented below rests on two main sources of
data: first, the regulation of candidate selection processes
in party statutes and other party documents, and second,
publicly available data on the actual execution of primaries,
including lists of candidates, online discussions about the
process and media coverage of these events. With regards
to this second stream of data, I have compiled a dataset
on the last Italian and Spanish general elections (of 2013
and 2015, respectively) and the 2014 European Parliament
2. Although Podemos acknowledges such functional subunits (the so called “Círculos Sectoriales”), their role in the candidate selection
process is marginal.
Table 1. Appointment systems and voting systems
Category (Rahat and Hazan 2001) Sub-category Category (recoded by author)
Appointment systems
Pure Appointment
With en bloc ratification
Appointment-voting systems With ratification and correction possibilities
Voting systems
One-round Majoritarian
Multi-round Majoritarian
One-round Semi-majoritarian
Multi-round Semi-majoritarian
One-round Semi-PR
Multi-round Semi-PR
One-round PR
Multi-round PR
Table adopted from Rahat and Hazan (2001, p. 308) extended by the author.
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elections. At the same time, data on the selection of
candidates for local and regional elections appear to be
more difficult to access; however, obtaining them might
be a feasible way of extending the scope of the findings
presented here.
In the following sections, I will first present the rules and
procedures each party adopted for the execution of their
candidate selection processes. Then, using my own data,
I will demonstrate to what extent their results favoured
the party leadership vis-à-vis the party on the ground.
Finally, I will evaluate these procedures as well as their
results using the four dimensions presented above. The
findings are not only relevant for determining the share
of power held by party members, but also because the
ways MPs are selected have an impact on their legislative
behaviour: the more open and democratic the contest is,
the more autonomous and competitive MPs are expected
to be, whilst strong control of the party leadership over
the process entails loyalty to the official party line (Katz,
2001; Pinto and Pedrazzani, 2015; Rahat and Hazan
2001). However, my primary interest lies in deducing to
what extent neopopulist parties’
claims of revitalizing
intra-party democracy are substantiated based on their
candidate selection practices.
3. The online primaries of the Five
Star Movement
3.1. Regulation of primaries
Beppe Grillo’s M5S was the first party in Italy to introduce
online primaries to select its candidates for the 2013 general
election. However, formal regulations of the candidate
selection process in party documents are very succinct, a
feature that is in line with the Five Star Movement’s self-
definition as an anti-/non-political party that defies such
regulations. This ethos is reflected in the party’s “non-
statute”, a document that consists of merely five pages
divided into seven articles (MoVimento 5 Stelle, 2009).
Article 7 specifies that:
On occasions of, and in preparation for, electoral consultations
[…], the M5S will constitute the center of collection of
candidatures and the vehicle for the selection of those subjects
who will be authorized, on each occasion and in writing, to
use the name and symbol ‘MoVimento 5 Stelle’ in the setting
of their participation in each electoral consultation. […] The
identity of candidates for each elective office will be publicized
on a dedicated website created within the framework of the
blog; discussions regarding such candidatures will likewise be
public, transparent and unmediated. The rules concerning the
procedure of candidature and designation for national or local
electoral consultations may be more precisely determined in
accordance with the type of consultation and in the light of the
experience that will be gained over time. (MoVimento 5 Stelle
2009, translation adopted from Pinto and Pedrazzani, 2015)
This latter point is especially relevant in the sense that
M5S primaries have indeed been regulated in an ad hoc
fashion: new regulations have been published on Beppe
Grillo’s blog (the only recognized platform through which
the party operates) before each voting procedure, each with
its own distinct set of rules. In the case of the primaries for
the 2013 general election dubbed “Parlamentarie”, potential
candidates were required to be members of the Five Star
Movement, to be at least 25 years old,
not to be members
of any other political party, not to have served in public
office for two electoral cycles an d not to have a criminal
record (MoVimento 5 Stelle, 2012; Pinto and Pedrazzani,
2015, p. 106). Voters were also required to be members of
M5S, and only those were eligible to vote who registered on
the party’s website before 30 September 2012, i.e. more than
two months before the primaries took place (ibid.). Based
on these requirements, the candidate selection process of
M5S can be described as rather exclusive.
The regulation of the primaries for the 2014 European
Parliament elections differed from the “Parlamentarie” in
that the candidates were selected in two rounds: first on
a regional level, then according to the five constituencies
that are applied in the selection of Italian MEPs. Voters
could cast three preferences in each round, and the winner
of the first round in each region already secured his or
her place on the final list of candidates. A fixed number of
3. Both parties can be called populist as they apply “populist strategies” (i.e. top-down mobilization against the established political elites)
to build mass support and advocate populist ideologies that divide societies into two antagonistic camps; “the virtuous people and some
corrupt elites” (Kriesi, 2014, p. 5).
4. This minimum age is a constitutional requirement in order to be eligible for the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
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the top rated candidates
in the second round would also
appear on the final list of candidates in alphabetical order.
Both candidates and voters had to meet strict requirements.
Potential candidates were expected to have been enrolled
in M5S prior to 31 December 2012 (the primaries took place
on 1 April 2014), not to hold elected office, and not to have
run or have a pending request to run for local elections in
2014. Voters had to be enrolled in the party by 30 June 2013
(i.e. nine months before the primaries) and not to have their
membership suspended by 20 March 2014 (MoVimento 5
Stelle, 2014a).
3.2. M5S primaries in practice
Despite the apparent differences in their regulations, the
two primaries yielded similar results, at least in numerical
terms. In the case of the 2012 primaries, the voting was
organized in correspondence with the 27 electoral districts
and each voter had the opportunity to cast three preferences
(Pinto and Pedrazzani, 2015). According to Beppe Grillo’s
official blog, the “Parlamentarie” involved a total of 1,400
candidates who received 95,000 votes from 32,000 voters
(Grillo, 2012a). While prominent party representatives widely
regarded these participation rates as “historic” (Capasso,
2012), these figures are quite modest in relation to the
party’s self-declared 255,339 members reported in the
same month (Grillo, 2012b). The previous figure entails that
only 12.53% of M5S members participated in the primaries
for the 2013 general elections. However, if one takes into
account the unreliability of objective (i.e. self-declared) party
membership data (Scarrow, 2015, Van Haute and Gauja,
2015), the participation rate of actual members might have
been higher.
In the 2013 general election, the Five Star Movement
achieved its best electoral results so far: with 25.5% of
the votes it won 109 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and
54 in the Senate, becoming the second and third largest
group in the two institutions, respectively. All of the elected
MPs were selected through online primaries and there were
no modifications in the candidacies, although the order of
the candidates did change in relation to the order based
on the number of votes they received. More interestingly,
the size and the composition of the M5S parli amentary
group have changed significantly since 2013, mostly as a
result of defections and expulsions. At the same time, this
finding should not be interpreted as an indication of the
candidate selection process being undemocratic but rather
as a symptom of low institutionalization of the par ty and
the underprivileged position the party in public office enjoys
as opposed to the two other faces of M5S (Katz and Mair,
1995, 2009; Tronconi, 2015).
With regards to the candidate selection process, most
concerns were related to the issue of transparency. A former
councillor of the party in Bologna, Federica Salsi, who had
previously been expelled from M5S because of criticizing
the party for its lack of internal democracy, expressed these
concerns in the form of twenty questions which went viral
on the Internet (Collevecchio, 2012). The questions revealed
uncertainty about the way sensitive data related to voting
were managed, the lack of publicly available detailed
information on the results of the primaries (Grillo published
only rounded figures on his blog, see Grillo, 2012a), and the
lack of regulations referring to how and by which organ of
the party disputes over contested results should be resolved
(Collevecchio, 2012).
In the case of the primaries for the 2014 European Parliament
elections, reported participation figures were very similar
to those of the “Parlamentarie”: in the first round, a total
of 5,091 candidates were presented for whom 35,188 M5S
members cast 92,877 votes (MoVimento 5 Stelle, 2014b),
whilst in the second round 33,000 voters expressed 91,245
preferences for the 112 candidates that emerged from the
first round (MoVimento 5 Stelle, 2014c). With regards to
the results, M5S became the second most voted party in
Italy with 21.15% of the vote which yielded 17 seats in the
European Parliament.
3.3. The M5S online primaries in light of
the four dimensions
After having described the rules as well as the results of the
most important candidate selection processes within the Five
Star Movement, I now turn to categorizing these procedures
using the four analytical dimensions developed by Rahat
5. 30 candidates for the North West constituency, 18 for North East, 20 for the Centre, 24 for the South and 20 for the islands of Sardinia
and Sicily (MoVimento 5 Stelle, 2014a).
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and Hazan (2001): candidacy, selectorate, decentralization
and voting/appointment system.
In terms of candidacy, the processes described above
clearly represent the exclusive end of the spectrum: not
only membership is required but also the time of enrolment
is fixed. Furthermore, would-be candidates who served in
elected office for two cycles or more were also ruled out.
However, as seen in Graph 1, with regards to the selectorate,
allowing all members to vote brings M5S closer to the
inclusive end of the continuum. Nevertheless, this might be
a somewhat misleading interpretation as similar restrictions
(time of enrolment) also apply to voters, which is more
restricted than a typical scenario in which all members can
vote irrespective of when they joined the party.
Decentralization is a delicate matter in M5S: whereas the
candidates emanate from and are elected on the basis
of regional constituencies, lists of candidates need to be
approved by the party in central office, i.e. Grillo and his
staff. This mechanism is also inherent in the party’s non-
statute: Beppe Grillo is the sole owner of the name and the
symbol of the movement, and thus can unilaterally grant or
withdraw permission to use them (Bordignon and Ceccarini,
2013). Thus, while it may seem partially decentralized on a
territorial (regional) level, the candidate selection of M5S
is closer to a centralized model. Finally, the voting system
applied in the Five Star Movement’s online primaries is a
semi-proportional one in which the number of votes each
selector is granted (3) is lower than the number of safe seats
contested (Rahat and Hazan 2001, p. 307).
In sum, the online primaries of M5S display some contradictory
features: although candidacy is extremely exclusive, the
selectorate is relatively wide; regional representation
is present but controlled by the centre, and the voting
system applied is closer to proportional than to majoritarian
systems, but the number of votes per elector is restricted.
4. The online primaries
of Podemos
4.1. Regulation of primaries
Although for an external observer it might seem that online
primaries are the bread and butter of Podemos, its crucial
position is not reflected in the party’s “organizational
document” (Documento organizativo, Podemos, 2015a), nor
in its official statute (Podemos, 2015c). According to these
documents, it is the competence of the Citizen Assembly
to “elaborate, through a process of open primaries, the
electoral lists for public offices (from the first until the
last candida te of the list) for t he institutions of national
representation” (Podemos 2015a, Article 13/a/2). The same
corresponds to territorial Citizen Assemblies for institutions
at the regional and local level (Podemos, 2015a, Article
33/2). The way primaries are executed is not specified in
these documents.
To address this hiatus, Podemos adopted a distinct 12-page
regulation for the primaries of the 2015 general election,
which established the details of the candidate selection
process (Podemos, 2015b).
In order to vote, party supporters
needed to be registered with Podemos.
The deadline for
registration entailing a right to vote was determined by the
party’s Electoral Commission, a supervisory organ whose
members are ratified by the Citizen Council
on the proposal
of the Secretary General (i.e. the party leader). Unlike in
the case of M5S, this deadline was highly permissive:
voters could register until 10 am on 16 July 2015, while the
primaries took place from 17 until 22 July. The voting system
was differentiated: 1. the party’s presidential candidate was
selected in a single constituency and voters could only
cast one vote; 2. candidates for the lower chamber of the
parliament (Congreso de los Diputados) were also selected
in a single constituency, using a voting system in which all
voters could express from 1 to 350 preferences,
the latter
6. The Citizen Assembly is the supreme decision-making body of Podemos in which all members have a right to participate (Podemos, 2015a).
7. To the author’s knowledge, no such specific regulation was adopted for the primaries that preceded the European Parliamentary elections,
save a presentation on
8. Initially, Podemos emphasized registration as a kind of “light membership” or supporter status. However, the distinction between members
and “inscritos” (registered party supporters) could not be maintained under Spanish party law. Thus, current “inscritos” are notified on
Podemos’ webpage that by submitting their application form, they become members of Podemos as a political party.
9. The Citizen Council is the main executive organ of Podemos, whose 62 members are selected by the Citizen Assembly (Podemos, 2015a).
10. The system used by Podemos was different from single transferable vote (STV) systems in that preferences were not ordered (Podemos,
2015b, Article 4).
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being the total number of deputies; and 3. candidates for
the Senate were selected based on regional constituencies
(autonomous communities), in which all voters could express
from one to as many preferences as the number of seats
assigned to their region (Podemos, 2015b, Article 4).
Unlike voters, candidates were not required to be party
members, only to be over 18. Candidates for the post
of Secretary General could simultaneously also run for
candidacy to the Congress of Deputies or the Senate.
However, simultaneous candidacies for the Congress of
Deputies and the Senate were ruled out (Podemos, 2015b,
Article 5). Individual candidates as well as integrated lists
of candidates (ranging from 50 to 350 candidates) could
be presented at the primaries. Members of lists were not
allowed to also run individually. In case of voting for lists,
voters could select the whole list as well as one or several
of its components. Voters could also combine preferences
for individual candidates with preferences for lists within
the allocation of their 1 to 350 votes.
All of the candidates needed to be licensed
by either one of
the Círculos
or by one of the elected organs of the party
in order to ensure that they conform to the ethical and
organizational principles of the party. In light of the results
of the primaries, the final list of candidates was assembled
based on the number of votes each candidate received, with
the caveat that gender inequalities were to be compensated
in a way that successive candidates alternate by gender
(also known as the “zipper system”).
As the primaries were held in one state-wide constituency
which does not correspond to the 52 provincial constituencies
whose lists can be voted for at Spanish general elections,
the resulting list was transformed into provincial lists of
candidates as follows: the most voted candidate could select
the provincial list on which he/she wanted to run as well as
his/her position on that list, a process that was repeated by
each successive candidate. The regulation also prescribed
that in exceptional cases, pacts made with other political
formations by the “directive organs” of Podemos can limit
the availability of posts, a possibility that needs to be
communicated to all candidates by the Electoral Commission
(Podemos, 2015b, Article 7.2).
4.2. Podemos primaries in practice
The primaries for the 2014 EP elections were the first
candidate selection process Podemos engaged in, shor tly
after its foundation in January 2014. Thus, the procedures
applied had been far less sophisticated and regulated
then they were during the 2015 primaries. Candidacies
were presented individually and each candidate had to
gain support from one of the Círculos (base units). All the
“Circles” could support three candidates at most. Voters
were not required to be members of Podemos (which
was only registered as a political party 16 days before the
primaries started), only to be Spanish citizens aged 16 or
During the seven days of the primaries, approximately 33,000
individuals cast their votes for the party’s 145 candidates.
Each individual could express one preference for the head
of the list and five preferences for other candidates. Online
voting was facilitated by the Agora Voting application, and
for one day offline voting was also possible, although its
reach was geographically limited (Riveiro, 2014). The first
54 places on the list (which corresponds to the number of
Spanish MEPs) were reordered in order to ensure gender
balance. Therefore, the fifth most voted candidate, Miguel
Urbán Crespo, was replaced by Lola Sánchez and did not
get one of the five mandates Podemos won. Interestingly,
out of the 5 Podemos MEPs selected in 2014, four had
already resigned by January 2016 to run for positions in
Spain. At the same time, they were all replaced by successive
candidates from the orig inal list, in line with the preferences
party sympathizers expressed at the primaries.
The voting procedures of the primaries for the 2015
general election triggered many more controversies both
internally and externally, above all because of the adoption
of closed lists and the possibility of voting “en plancha” (i.e.
to approve a whole list without expressing any individual
11. The regulation (Podemos, 2015b, Article 6) uses the Spanish verb “avalar”, whose meaning is closer to “support”. However, the regulation
also states explicitly that “avalar” “does not entail support for a candidate”, only acknowledgement that the candidate conforms to the
requirements established by Podemos.
12. The smallest local or professional groups that are the base units of Podemos.
13. It is important to note that due to this condition, the Citizen Assembly could not license/support candidates, as it is not an elected body.
Eloi Puig
IDP No. 24 (February, 2017) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Bálint Mikola
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Online primaries and intra-party democracy…
preferences). Although voters were given the opportunity
to select only a few candidates from a list and combine
it with preferences for individual candidates, the results
of this procedure were extremely skewed towards the list
supported by the party leader, Pablo Iglesias. Numerically,
only three of the 65 selected candidates (4.6 %) following
Pablo Iglesias were not identical to the ones on his list, which
underscores criticisms claiming that the candidate selection
process was strongly dominated by the party leader and
thus not truly competitive. In terms of participation, 59,723
members expressed their preferences, which represented
a mere 15.52% of the total membership.
Another practice that raised concerns about the democratic
nature of the candidate selection was that of making
alliances with other political actors and the nomination of
external candidates, the so-called “fichajes”. Although this
was prev iously au thoriz ed by the mem bership
and included
in the regulations of the primaries (Podemos, 2015b), it has
led to drastic changes in the final list of candidates. Out of
the 75 candidates presented by Podemos at the general
election, 30 (i.e., 40%) were not selected in the primaries
but derived from regional alliances in Catalonia (En Comú
Podem), Valencia (Compromís-Podemos-És el Moment)
and Galicia (En Marea). From a different perspective, out
of the 69 mandates won by Podemos and its allies, 27
(39.1%) were not directly approved by Podemos members
in primaries (Manetto, 2015) but instead were selected using
the mechanisms prescribed by the respective territorial
partner organizations.
4.3. Podemos primaries in light of the four
As in the case of the Five Star Movement, the following
section will evaluate the candidate selection processes of
Podemos based on the four analytical dimensions of Rahat
and Hazan (2001).
In terms of candidacy, Podemos was and until now has
remained extremely inclusive: candidates are not required
to be party members as long as they are supported by
one of the party organs or organizational units defined in
the corresponding regulations. However, with regards to
the inclusiveness of the selectorate, it has changed over
time: while all citizens above the age of 16 could vote for
the candidates for the 2014 EP elections, in 2015 this
option was only available for those who were registered
with Podemos, which technically and according to Spanish
party law equals party members only. This is still closer
to the inclusive end of the scale, but one could describe
the evolution of the selectorate as backsliding towards
traditional party models.
Podemos scores even worse on decentralization which is
almost totally absent from its candidate selection processes,
save the requirement that candidates can also be licensed
by local base units (but by other, non-territorial organs
too) and the election of candidates to the Senate which by
definition is based on territorial representation. Even the
selection of provincial candidates is based on one state-
wide constituency, and the way candidates later select the
constituencies where they would like to run for office is also
not tied to any territorial principle.
With regards to the voting/appointment system dimension,
Podemos’s primaries for the 2015 general election were a
textbook example of Rahat and Hazan’s (2001) in-between
or “Appointment-Voting Systems” category, in which “model
lists” are established by some party agency which are then
subjected to en bloc voting. However, the process used
before the EP elections was a pure voting system in which
only gender imbalances were compensated for. Based on
the position allocation formula, the voting system used in
2014 can be described as semi-proportional (fewer votes/
person than safe seats contested) while the one applied in
2015 was a proportional system, both of which were based
on one single constituency. In sum, it is not difficult to
observe a gradual move in Podemos from inclusive towards
more exclusive practices, especially regarding the use of
closed lists and the extension of the selectorate. Table 2
summarizes the main empirical findings for both parties.
14. Party members were asked whether they would authorize the Citizen Council of the party to make alliances with “different political
actors” at the regional or inferior levels with the condition that in case such alliances were made, the name “Podemos” would always
appear first on the voting sheets (e.g. Podemos – name of other party). However, potential partners were not specified in the wording of
the question.
15. Podemos explicitly supports transforming the electoral system so that constituencies correspond to the 17 autonomous communities and
2 autonomous municipalities instead of the 52 provinces (Podemos, 2016).
Eloi Puig
IDP No. 24 (February, 2017) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Bálint Mikola
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Online primaries and intra-party democracy…
Table 2. The candidate selection processes of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Podemos in light of the four analytical
Analytical dimension Five Star Movement Podemos
Exclusive (membership required, time of enrolment
fixed) Inclusive (membership not required)
Inclusive, with restrictions (membership required, time
of enrolment fixed)
Inclusive, with restrictions (membership required, time
of enrolment fixed, but highly permissive)
Regional (with the central party administration retaining
some control)
National (primaries based on one statewide
Voting/appointment system
Pure voting system, semi-proportional representation
(limited vote system)
Appointment-voting system, semi-proportional (2014)
and proportional (2015) representation
As seen in Table 2, the eligibility criteria for candidates
(labelled as candidacy) are higher in the Five Star Movement,
whereas the two parties impose similar requirements on
the selectorate, although the date of registration is much
more flexible in Podemos. Based on these two criteria, the
candidate selection processes of Podemos can be classified
as more inclusive, which also presumes a greater share of
power granted to the party on the ground. At the same time,
the organization of candidate selection processes is more
decentralized in Beppe Grillo’s party and the vote choices
are not as clearly dominated by the party leader as in the
case of Pablo Iglesias’s lists. However, the indirect influence
of the unofficial party leader over the selection of potential
candidates might similarly distort the outcome in M5S.
Thus, further research is needed to determine the impact
of decentralization and the voting/appointment system on
intra-party democracy.
5. Conclusion and implications
for future research
As the sections above have demonstrated, the candidate
selection processes of both parties are mixed and feature
elements that reveal undemocratic tendencies. Two of
these elements are common: the restriction of the right to
vote to party members only and the high level of control
that the party leadership retains over the composition of
lists of candidates. The particular methods for exercising
control differ: Beppe Grillo retains the right to unilaterally
grant or withdraw permission to use the party’s symbols
in electoral campaigns if he finds that a candidate does
not act in line with the party’s principles, while in Podemos
the party leader secures his own preferred candidates by
compiling lists of candidates backed by himself. The first
is a legalistic approach, while the second is based on the
resources owned by Pablo Iglesias in terms of popularity,
media coverage, rhetorical skills and the undisputable
nature of his leadership that the former resources entail.
On the other hand, while few would doubt that online voting
is more accessible than its offline counterparts, participation
rates as well as the absolute number of participants are far
from impressive in either of the two parties. Some of this
could be attributed to the exclusive nature of the selectorate
(although that would not explain low participation rates
among members). Nevertheless, the fact that even the
extremely open 2014 primaries of Podemos for the EP
elections did not attract more than 33,000 people in a
period when the political engagement of Spaniards reached
unprecedented heights is intriguing. Similarly puzzling is
the use of rounded figures such as the previous one when
publishing the results of some of these primaries, which
raises concerns about the reliability of these data.
This paper has also demonstrated that online candidate
selection processes can be fruitfully categorized using Rahat
and Hazan’s (2001) four analytical dimensions. Further
thought should be given to whether these indicators could
be refined in ways that would make it easier to quantify
them or at least make them more sensitive to variation
by way of including additional categories. At the same
time, future research on candidate selection for local and
regional elections could yield further insights, especially on
the effects of decentralization.
Eloi Puig
IDP No. 24 (February, 2017) I ISSN 1699-8154 Journal promoted by the Law and Political Science Department
Bálint Mikola
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Online primaries and intra-party democracy…
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Recommended citation
MIKOLA, Bálint (2017). “Online primaries and intra-party democracy: Candidate selection processes
in Podemos and the Five Star Movement”. IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Política. No. 24,
pp. 37-49. UOC [Accessed: dd/mm/yy]
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About the author
Bálint Mikola
Doctoral Candidate
Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations
Central European University (CEU)
Qualitative researcher in the field of Comparative Politics, specialized on digital democracy, political
participation, party organizations and intra-party democracy. He holds an MA-degree in Political and
Social Sciences from Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), Barcelona, as well as an MA-degree in Journalism
from ELTE, Budapest.
In his doctoral research he studies the effects of online political participation on intra-party power
relations focusing on recently founded anti-elitist parties in Southern Europe that use the Internet as the
dominant platform in their party activities. In particular, he is interested in the extent to which members
and supporters can shape party decisions through these organizational innovations.
Before engaging in an academic career, he worked at Hungary’s leading online newspaper,,
where besides covering domestic political events he specialized on Spanish and Latin-American politics,
urban development and environmental politics.
Central European University
Nador u. 9
1051 Budapest, Hungary

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