Külli Taro: Politicians canceling themselves

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Külli Taro. Source: ERR

By keeping politicians from holding high office or making important decisions, we are doing a disservice to politicians as well as society in general, Külli Taro writes in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Local government council elections candidates have been registered. Thousands of people all over Estonia want to contribute to local affairs by serving on municipality councils. They deserve recognition. This kind of civil activism is just what a democratic society is based on.

Of course, I expect the candidates to mean it when they pledge their time and effort, instead of running simply as vote magnets or in hopes of securing perks.

Local government council members are not paid. However, the work requires a fair bit of dedication to be done properly. Delving into regulations, procedures, detailed and development plans, reports, budgets or municipal transactions is not always fun and games. Not everyone becomes a mayor or rural municipality head, with most candidates serving as the rank and file.

Running in elections is often a person's first step in politics. Now, they will officially become one if they weren't before. A person elected to a representative body is the narrower definition of a politician. Those are either the Riigikogu or a local government council in Estonian context. More broadly speaking, we consider every person who has held political office, been tied to a political party or even just been active in public life a politician.

But why does the concept of "politician" not have a positive image in Estonia and has rather become a foul-tasting title? The status of a politician might even become a hindrance in terms of one's future career.

The recently concluded presidential election sent the message that a politician cannot be allowed to participate in running the country. Whereas the message was sent by politicians. How else to explain the agreement to find a person who is as far removed from politics as possible while still having an idea of what it is. I understand these considerations. But warding off politicians is, nevertheless, a highly unfortunate message.

Allow me to assure the reader that the mistake made in formulating such a message in no way lessens the worth of the president-elect. The matter goes beyond that, to the functioning and viability of democracy. By keeping politicians from holding high office or making important decisions, we are doing a disservice to politicians as well as society in general.

We want people as hardworking and smart as possible to run for the Riigikogu and local councils. But how to attract good specialists, smart and experienced people in a situation where they basically get canceled afterwards?

In a democracy, we elect politicians to represent us for making the most important decisions. The quality of politics depends on politicians. Officials cannot and should not be in charge of fundamental decisions.

Another blow was delivered by [Reform Party MP] Jürgen Ligi on the ERR webcast "Otse uudistemajast" when he said that the role of the Riigikogu in drafting the budget should not grow. Because "that role is incompetent, self-serving and indifferent to what matters." In other words, Ligi was referring to his colleagues as incompetent, self-serving and indifferent. Perhaps the experienced politician is right. By the way, the current system of so-called Riigikogu protection money or direct investments really isn't sensible. But that is a different topic.

If we want a capable Riigikogu and local councils, we need capable people to run in elections. Parties go to great lengths to bring in new candidates before elections. And it is becoming increasingly difficult. Why should people run for a representative body if the title of politician brings more harm than good? Whereas one is then kept from making important decisions in said bodies.

I have been very disappointed in the Riigikogu and a few local councils, embarrassed even. However, if we do not respect our representative bodies, and especially if said body does not respect itself, democracy cannot function.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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