University of Tartu political science researcher Kristjan Vassil thinks that dissatisfaction with the current crop of politicians should be voiced more loudly than before. All political parties can be called to order by not voting for them.
What could change in terms of political parties by 2032?
Estonia has a consolidated democracy and no great changes are expected on the political landscape. What should definitely change is the relationship between the parties and the voters. Also, the political culture should improve.
No new additions to the political landscape?
Whether one party is founded or another one disappears is such a small change that there is no point in making a fuss over it. What is important is that political parties covere the political preferences of voters in important segments. When there’s a deficit of representation - some areas are left uncovered by existing parties - a new political party will get a chance to mobilize these voters and get representation in parliament or other representative body.
That would be the only reason, in my view, why we would need a new political party. Being dissatisfied with some parties at the moment is no reason to found a new one.
Rather, the reasons for displeasure should be voiced more loudly. All these parties can be called to order by not voting for them. In the elections of the European Parliament or local elections, the voters often ignore the parties they usually prefer and give their votes to other parties out of their wish to express their displeasure, not out of their political preferences.
What could change?
Political cronyism must certainly decrease. I suppose these puppet masters and cash guys realize that what they are doing is not right and hopefully this kind of behavior will cease over time, but it can only cease if the citizens and institutions react quickly and unequivocally.
Citizens must become more sensitive and expressive. Institutions must ensure that regrettable cases are investigated in a quick and forceful manner. If someone prints out pages and pages of a stranger’s correspondence and keeps it in his home and there is no formal resolution to the case even two years later, then something is very wrong on an institutional level. This must definitely change.
We must understand that political parties are economic players, who maximize their interests. There is no reason to assume that they would venture out of their comfort zones and become gentlemen overnight on their own.
How could changes be brought on?
At the end of the day, we are talking about political culture, or lack of political culture in this case. Political culture is not a vague concept but a process, where the standards and information of political behavior are passed on from one generation of politicians to another - that is the simplified definition of political culture - and I really hope that it will improve. It can improve if the new generation is more critical of the standards and views. I think it will improve.
At the moment, a big problem is that newcomers are socialized within the system, there are few outsiders coming in, which means that they take over the standards of old-timers and then there is understandably little room for change. Luckily, there are exceptions. It is a fact that a generational change takes place.
And that is one of the main mechanisms that could ensure that our political culture improves. However, this requires people from outside the system entering our politics, our parties: I cannot see that happening to a necessary extent.
Will anything change in the electoral system? Is a change even necessary?
A change in the electoral system will not necessarily improve political culture. Even if we tighten up the rules, it won’t mean that the participants in the system will take them seriously. Our current system is pretty good, political chivalry and honor is needed, where the rules of the game are followed. By the way, in addition to a generational change, political chivalry would also increase if more women participated in politics: a huge potential is left unused here.
Is there any hope at all for the re-emergence of chivalry?
Yes, chivalry is more settled in the new generation - you only need to think about [Minister of Finance Jürgen] Ligi or [Minister of Education Jevgeni] Ossinovski. Also, I think the “gentlemanly behavior” is in place with female politicians. We may not always agree with the positions of Mailis Reps or Kadri Simson, but in debates they use arguments about the subject of the debate, not their opponent’s person. Debates that include women are often more rich in arguments than the ones where only men argue amongst themselves. It is informative and creates dialogue.
Does the voter compass need a reset?
The main function of the voter compass is to ensure that citizens get a practical reflection of their political selves and no great changes are likely in that regard. What will certainly change is that voter compasses will be more closely linked to social media in the future. For example, they will open new doors for strengthening civil society.
Linking social media to voter compasses is one way of mobilizing people for implementing certain political initiatives, creating legislation and these will broaden massively in the next 18 years.
What is there to gain from that knowledge?
It is an interesting and detailed insight into our social network; a new dimension on all our friends. It is a way of making the usually uninteresting politics fascinating for people. It is a way of increasing political participation and a way of reducing political apathy. We change something that is boring to the core into something that is attractive, especially for the young.
Isn’t there a danger involved, especially when we know where people with certain political preferences live?
Initially, this type of information is not available, but most importantly, all links between the voter compass and social media must strictly be made with the agreement of people, by letting them know exactly which information will be used for which purposes.
When we consider other areas then how is it more dangerous than the U.S, where households which have no defined political preferences, are assessed whether they are more likely to vote Democrat or Republican and then door-to-door people and direct mail will be sent there?
Or how is it more dangerous than supermarkets predicting the future purchases of clients based on their shopping history or banks offering their clients new loan and insurance products based on the clients‘ previous behavior? Is it more dangerous in that regard? People disclose far more delicate information about themselves than their political preferences. I can clearly see more opportunities than threats here.
Vassil spoke to uudised.err.ee as part of the "Estonia 2032" project.