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Martin Mölder: The time to fix Estonia's political system is now

Martin Mölder.
Martin Mölder. Source: Lauri Varik

The time is right to meet voters' cry for help with a serious push to fundamentally change the way Estonia's political system functions, Martin Mölder finds.

Whether the way Estonia is governed is currently in a crisis or not would make for an interesting debate. However, it is a fact that neither the government nor parliament can today work the way they should. It is another fact that an unprecedented number of voters have reconsidered their position since the March elections, whereas this migration stems from dissatisfaction with the ruling parties' work.

The status quo – lack of balance between the Riigikogu and government and the coalition parties' plummeting rating – is not an isolated phenomenon. The causes go beyond this spring's general election and the disappointment that followed. Estonia's political system has been gradually derailing from 2011.

Elections back then also yielded a Riigikogu which all but lacked political competition. But without EKRE, there wasn't a strong enough opposition force to stand up to the coalition. More than a few anti-government protests from the day would be quite fitting today, after some slight adjustment.

And so, dissatisfaction started bubbling and mounting a dozen years ago. It gave us the Free Party and EKRE. While the former ultimately failed as a political party, the latter was here to stay. The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) in some ways functions like institutionalized dissatisfaction in our party system. That same dissatisfaction also gave us Eesti 200 and the Parempoolsed. Both were and are protest parties the starting point for which is that the existing political forces just cannot perform their function.

Many who had until then backed the current ruling parties saw in Eesti 200 a viable alternative. That is, until the previous election's campaign kicked off. Because Eesti 200 positioned itself so close to the Reform Party during and after the campaign, the two became indistinguishable from one another. Even light cannot escape the event horizon of a black hole. Dissatisfied voters lost faith in newcomers' ability to make a change. And we have indeed seen very little in terms of the latter.

Isamaa's recently soaring rating tells us that voters are instead looking to parties inside the system as the novelty argument just doesn't sell anymore. EKRE have already locked down their potential voters. Center's recent change of leadership and internal tensions that preceded it have left many potential voters hesitant. Therefore, disgruntled voters have little choice but to look to Isamaa the newfound popularity of which amounts to a cry for help: "I'm sick of this nonsense and just want policy that won't cause me to feel embarrassed or concerned!"

If we don't start thinking about solutions now, the past decade's waves of indignation will simply keep happening for another ten years. Voters will find hope only to be disappointed again. Governments will come and go, doing whatever they want – or, worse yet, not doing what needs to be done. If problems are allowed to pile up without a solution, Estonian democracy is bound to be wounded more grievously than it has now. It would be sensible to try and avoid that.

But where to begin? Voters are looking to Isamaa with hope, while no party can do anything to change the situation alone. Nor should they be able to. But as suggested by Jüri Adams, one of the authors of our Constitution, in a recent interview: we need to start thinking about how to overhaul our Constitution. We didn't know what would work and how when it was first passed. Today, we could have the ability to see what needs fixing and changing. If we just made the effort.

Adams pointed out that the voter should be given a bit more power in Estonia. If there was even a theoretical possibility of government policy clashing with the wishes of most voters bringing about extraordinary elections, deadlock such as what we are experiencing today would be less likely to occur. Parties would also be less tempted to promise one thing before elections only to do something else entirely once they're over.

Throughout the political history of re-independent Estonia, the political elite has rather feared to give voters more responsibility in the democratic system. It has been the position of the Reform Party and the Social Democrats. Also that of Isamaa. Center and EKRE have not feared voters in that sense over the last decade.

Isamaa could be key to proceedings today. Should the party decide that they are also willing to entrust voters with an emergency mechanism for resolving political deadlock or help avoid administration that fails to considers voters' wishes or election promises, perhaps what Jüri Adams has proposed could even work. The current Riigikogu might still block such change, while getting an early start could rob the next parliament of the chance.

The time is right to meet voters' cry for help with a serious push to fundamentally change the way Estonia's political system functions. To be able to look back 30 years from now and find that we made the proper corrections at the right time.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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