Interview with Anders Fogh Rasmussen
(former Danish Minister of Economy,
President of the Liberal Party)

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Born in 1953 as a son of a farmer, Anders Fogh Rasmussen early became interested in politics. While studying economics at the University of Aarhus he 1974 was elected president of the Young Liberals. In 1978, only 25 years old, he became the youngest member of the Danish parliament. In 1987 he was appointed Minister of Taxation and from 1990 on also Minister of Economy. In 1992 he chose to withdraw following the publication of a critical report by the auditing committee of the Parliament. Since spring 1998 he has been president of the Danish Liberal Party. When his book "Fra Socialstat til minimalstat" (From Welfare Society to minimalist Society) was published in 1993 it immediately became a national bestseller. Mr. Fogh Rasmussen lives in Jutland, Denmark and is married to Anne-Mette. Together they have three children: Henrik, Maria, and Christina.

Danish Society for Direct Democracy - all rights reserved

Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen (AFR). First we are happy to having you with us. So thank you for taking your time and sharing your views with The Danish Society for Direct Democracy (DSDD).

DSDD: Please tell us, what do you think about teledemocracy? Will it come? According to your view, what are the advantages? And do you see any pitfalls?

AFR: I see no reason why an electronic voting procedure should not be the future election system. A poll is a practical arrangement and for the implementation of this we should of course use the newest accessible technology. In order to use an electronic voting procedure in formally binding ballots it must be secured against manipulation. At the present stage the electronic system is not completely fool proof because, among other things its impossible to ensure that each vote is really confined to the elector when he or she does not personally register at the polling station. But of course this technical problem will be solved in the future, and then the road is paved for an advanced teledemocracy.

DSDD: Some political pundits argue: Assumed that the people in a direct democracy will have the opportunity to vote on both taxes and public spendings, they will vote for lower taxes and better welfare simultaneously. If so, the outcome would be a hughe budget deficit.

I see no reason why an electronic
voting procedure should not be
the future election system

AFR: The representative democracy as we know it today does not guarantee a balanced budget either! In the Constitution we ought to insert a regulation which puts heavy restrictions on any possible budget deficit. Subsequently it would not be possible - in the Parliament or in referenda - to carry through proposals which exceed these limitations. Things would then even better than today.

DSDD: In a 1996 cover story of the Danish Internet Magazine On Line we learn that you have your own home page on the net and that you supply a weekly question that all viewers are encouraged to answer. When TANN visited the site recently 8 (!) had cast their vote (down from 81 i May). What do you think can be done with regard to getting more people involved in electronic polls?

AFR: Yes, every week I put an issue to the vote on my homepage. There was a big interest in the beginning but now there are, as you pointed out, fewer voters taking part in the weekly poll. I believe that an intensified marketing might raise the number of voters again. Generally I think that electronic polls should be used on an experimental basis for specific and limited purposes and thereby gradually gain a foothold.

I think that the social act of voting
is more attached to the election campaign than to the poll itself

DSDD: Last fall a bill in favour of electronic voting systems was put forward in the Danish Parliament by The Progress Party. Most of the speakers, however, argued in favour of existing systems. According to your colleage from the liberal party (former social minister Else Winther Andersen) electronic voting from home (a) is sensitive with regard to computer fraud and system breakdown. (b) will alienate people from the social act of voting and apart from that it is. Do you agree?

AFR: As far as the risk of computer fraud is concerned I don t think the electronic voting system is completely secure yet. But on the other hand its just a matter of time before this technical problem is solved. I think that the social act of voting is more attached to the election campaign than to the poll itself.

DSDD: Which topics do you find suitable for referendums and initiatives, and are there topics that you would deem "not at all suitable"? If so, can you outline some guidelines regarding what is suitable and what is not?

AFR: My basis is that all issues in theory could be put to a referendum. But I ll make a very important exception. The Constitutions provisions of the right of liberty for the individual - i.e. the freedom of speech, the right of property, the liberty of association, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of religion etc. - are universal and inviolable. Consequently it should not be possible to abolish them through voting. A majority shouldn t be allowed to deprive a minority of the basic rights of liberty. The Constitution should stipulate the issues that are not allowed to be put forward to referenda.

The Constitution should stipulate
the issues that are not allowed to be
put forward to referenda

DSDD: Does your party have an actual strategy concerning electronic voting?

AFR: The Liberal Party has not prepared concrete proposals but I am sure that direct democracy will be on the agenda in the future, and as time goes on and the technology improves the question of an electronic voting procedure will accentuate.

DSDD: Do you think that electronic voting will at any time soon become a serious topic within an EU context?

AFR: If electronic voting will be possible on a national level it will be possible to use direct democracy in European polls as well. Remember that the ballots will still take place in the member states. Each country has its own traditions as far as referenda are concerned, and I dont think the bureaucracy in Brussels can or will intervene into the national decision processes.

DSDD: Thank you very much for the conversation.