YOUNG VOTERS PRIMARY TARGET OF ON-LINE CAMPAIGN

Political parties using Internet for first time

For the first time, the Internet is playing a role in Slovakia's electoral process, as most of the country's major political parties are using the Web to reach out to young voters unimpressed by more traditional styles of campaigning. Web pages and chat lines, where voters can discuss issues with politicians on-line, have won praise from both particpants and observers as a cheap and effective way to campaign.
"It is a great thing, especially for young people," said Oľga Pietruchová, Internet specialist for the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) . "The Internet campaign is a good opportunity for young, first-time voters to find answers to their questions and then afterwards decide who to vote for. It's also more comfortable and much easier to ask questions while sitting behind the computer [hooked up to a chat line] than raising a hand at a meeting, "added Pietruchová.


The new political horizon. Most of Slovakia's largest political parties are using the web.
Created by Slavomír Danko

For the first time, the Internet is playing a role in Slovakia's electoral process, as most of the country's major political parties are using the Web to reach out to young voters unimpressed by more traditional styles of campaigning. Web pages and chat lines, where voters can discuss issues with politicians on-line, have won praise from both particpants and observers as a cheap and effective way to campaign.

"It is a great thing, especially for young people," said Oľga Pietruchová, Internet specialist for the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) . "The Internet campaign is a good opportunity for young, first-time voters to find answers to their questions and then afterwards decide who to vote for. It's also more comfortable and much easier to ask questions while sitting behind the computer [hooked up to a chat line] than raising a hand at a meeting, "added Pietruchová.

Internet experts are quick to agree that the new technology has enabled parties to reach out to new voters. "Political parties are influencing those young and educated people who have the greatest access to the Internet," said Stanislav Vojtanek, director of the internet provider ABC Internet. "It's useful mostly for parties whose voters are mainly from the younger generation,"said Vojtanek.

Other political observers focused on the savings allowed by the new style of campaigning. Marek Kapusta, main coordinator of the Rock Volieb'98 voter education program, said that "using the Internet for the campaign , which is addressed mostly to young people, and promoting the political parties is very important, because it is easy to find needed information, and it's cheap and very easy to update compared to big and expensive billboards."

Choosing the best

Slovakia's ruling party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), is the Godfather of internet campaigning, having had a web site (www.hzds.sk, e-mail: webmast@hzds.sk) since April 1997. Jozef Kaffka, the party's internet specialist, said the site had sections on the HZDS's history and general information, its main representatives , a list of HZDS deputies in parliament, ending with an opinion section and photo collection. " It is mostly young people and people from academic field who have access to Internet, as it can be seen from our statistics section," he said.

"HZDS has a great site, whatever way you look at it, because of the sheer volume of information they offer," conceded the SOP's Pietruchová. "SOP has a very good site, [www.sop.sk, e-mail: sop@sop.sk] because the information is updated daily, while the others, like [the main opposition party Slovak Democratic Coalition ] the SDK and the [former communist Party of the Democratic Left] SDĽ are good, but not updated so often."

But not all parties are sold on campaigning through the internet. SDĽ spokesman Ľubomir Andrassy said that "the problem of the Slovak internet is that it is not so widespread as abroad, where every other family has access to it." The SDĽ site (www.sdl.sk, e-mail: hovorca@sdl.sk), he added, was visited "mostly by university students and small and medium businessmen."

Following in foosteps

Pietruchová said that the SOP site, which had been on-line since June 1, 1998, had taken a page from the books of foreign internet campaigners." We were inspired by the web sites of foreign political parties like the German SPD and CDU, and also the Czech ODS," she said.

The SOP also held a 90-minute on-line interview between party vice-chairman Pavol Hamžík and 30 questioners on August 12. "We were delighted by such huge interest from young people , and also by the sophisticated level of the questions," said Pietruchová. "Pavol Hamžík likes this form of communication very much."

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