We lack a forum for discussions between voters and candidates prior to elections. We live in a digital state. Our entire life is built on e-services. While elections still take place seemingly oblivious of the existence of the Estonian IT tiger, Mirjam Mõttus writes in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
"There is a vote up for grabs," a friend of mine wrote on their social media wall. As tends to be the case, the vote wasn't free. In exchange, they wanted their municipality's local elections candidates to answer some fundamental questions. The latter concerned population aging, innovation and ways of keeping life going in the conditions of falling tax revenue.
I asked my friend whether they were satisfied with feedback and had made their decision. I learned that the question never reached a critical mass of candidates. While a few candidates presented solid positions, there was nothing further. However, as voters we would like to have a discussion before and not after we cast our vote.
It turns out we need to seriously improve our debate capacity to promote broad-based democracy, at least that is what the Estonian Human Development Report says. It concludes that poor quality of debate is one of the biggest problems of the information age.
Local elections should or at least could be a place where relevant skills can be honed. In the end, the struggle is for votes and a better life. Citizens are told increasingly often that they shouldn't give away their vote for a pack of condoms or a flashlight. We are urged to ask questions, prod, seek to know and told that our decisions have weight.
But the next question is where can we do all those things.
More diligent candidates try to broadcast their ideas in the local paper, while they tend to remain one-sided there. Social media posts mostly consist of images of the candidate holding their election number. Debate is sparked only between those making up their friends list.
While there are organized debates in major places, a voter in Peipsiääre Municipality has little use for listening to an exchange between Tartu mayoral candidates. They need to know how candidates in their municipality think.
Therefore, little has changed in that lists are published, placards with well-known faces appear in major centers, a pancake tent is erected at the local fair – and that's it.
However, if you happen to live somewhere smaller than Põlva or Võru, you can only dream about developing a broader understanding of candidates in your area, what and how they think. Or whether they think at all. Because small places – even though many of them aren't that small after the administrative reform – do not have placards, pancakes or indeed any sign of there being an election in progress.
We lack a place for discussions between voters and candidates prior to elections. We live in a digital state. Our entire life is built on e-services. While elections still take place seemingly oblivious of the existence of the Estonian IT tiger.
Whereas I'm not talking about the stage of elections where one has to perform that decisive left click. I'm talking about debates, getting to know one another, determining whether the candidate is merely running or whether there is something else there.
What about parties' local cells and election coalitions proposing meetings in their areas. No, not at the cultural center because who has the time or possibility to show up. Let us have a meeting via Zoom or even Facebook and set about cultivating good debate practice.
This would allow those for whom getting around is difficult to attend. There could be a frank exchange of ideas, with concerned voters asking questions and candidates providing the answers, without slogans and embellishment. Honestly. The questions and meeting would remain online for everyone to see. Perhaps there would even be community sharing. Those who are too timid to ask questions can hope someone will also put their query to candidates.
Editor: Marcus Turovski