If you read Stop!/Zona-M regularly, you already know that “free as in freedom” software and file formats are an essential tool for anybody interested in reducing expenses in Public Administrations, make them more efficient and allow all citizens to control in the best possible way what they representatives are doing (and if you don’t know this yet, it’s time to read the article linked at the bottom of this page!).

What you may not know yet is that, in Italy, there is a campaign ongoing since 2008 on these themes, called “CaroCandidato” (Dear Candidate in english). This is the italian version of a much larger European initiative, the Free Software pact. The campaign consists of inviting all the candidates to any political or administrative election to subscribe the italian version of the Pact. The candidates who do it commit to actively promote Free Software and Open Standards in the Public Administrations where, if voted, they will work after the elections.

This year, on March 28th and 29th, 13 of the 20 italian regions will hold their elections for their regional government. These elections are very important because they cover most of the country and because region governors have actual powers over key issues as health, education and industry.

At least on paper, thanks to CaroCandidato, Free Software may have a voice this year in many of the regional councils assisting the governors. As of March 17th, the 2010 edition of the campaign has already enlisted more than 100 candidates from all parties. Citizens visiting the website can easily find, sorted by party or electoral district, wh ich regional candidates have signed the Pact for these elections.

What will happen?

Several italian regions already have their local laws that promote Free Software and Open digital Standards to some degree, and several of those laws were written years before CaroCandidato. The problem is that, unless those laws specify exactly both who is responsible for applying them and what sanctions they receive if they don’t do their job, very little changes in practice. This is already happened in the past.

Will CaroCandidato improve this situation? This is hard to say. One thing that is great is that the campaign for these regional elections found supporters in almost all the parties present in all of Italy, so some of them will surely be elected somewhere. However, they are not spread evenly across parties. As of March 17th, the two major parties in the national Parliament, Popolo della Libertà (“People of Liberty”, the one lead by Berlusconi) and Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, now part of the opposition) only have 3 and 15 candidates who signed the Pact: a too tiny fraction of their forces, indeed.

Almost all the other supporters are spread in small parties, sometimes present only in one or two regions, so they may have much smaller chances to be elected. One out of four signers are from new, local civic lists adhering to the Five Star movement launched by Beppe Grillo in 2009 (here’s the Five Star program about digital issues). Cynically speaking, most supporters of Free Software in these elections belong to the parties that have the less possibilities of getting many seats in the regional councils.

In any case, CaroCandidato and similar efforts are still essential, and I am happy of the great job they’re doing. They give much more visibility to issues that really need it here in Italy. Above all, they’re doing it in a way that is both easy for the average citizen to understand and more difficult and counterproductive to ignore for candida tes. I could have predicted the unbalance in support for Free Software across parties months ago, but I am pleasantly surprised to see the number of signatures. Software is still seen worldwide as boring black magic by most people and Italy has one of the lowest computer literacy rates in Europe, so I want to thank the CaroCandidato team for making this topic more popular!

Further reading if you still need to know why Free Software and formats are important