Just like the Consumer Protection Board can't help you get your money back from a huckster who sold you magical glass beads, railing against politicians now that got your vote in the last elections is pointless, writes Erik Gamzejev, editor-in-chief of Ida-Viru daily Põhjarannik. The only way to get it right is to actually look at the background of the candidates whose leaflets you find in your letterbox.
There is no better way for a voter to stand up for the interests of their particular area than to make a well-considered selection in the local elections, and not let politicians make a fool out of them.
Why do people still need to be reminded of something so obvious? Probably because looking at the current election campaigns and candidates’ promises one could get the impression that some of them are getting ready to build Tommaso Campanella’s utopian City of the Sun.
A municipality with 4,500 residents is promised a new and fancy register office as well as an entire new quarter for young families, a 30,000-seat stadium, a maritime museum, 500 new jobs, and free public transport. Legal aid is to be made free of charge, an addiction prevention center simply moved beyond the municipal border, hospital queues promised to disappear, and pensioners promised an anniversary bonus. The only thing missing to round off the idyll is a promenade named after an honorary citizen—no, wait, they’re promising that as well.
This isn’t some joke or fantasy. The prime minister’s party is running in the county center of Jõhvi with these campaign promises as part of their platform, with former minister Martin Repinski on its list, who picked well-known clairvoyante Ilona Kaldre as one of his running mates.
So they are bluffing and manipulating the voters. It’s about a sense of measure, and the question how sensitive parties are to their voters’ level of political understanding.
If such an insane amount of unreal promises are heaped up, the assumption is that the voter has no idea what the roles of local and central power are, and that they don’t have a clue what the price would be of actually realizing one or the other of these promises. This lack of knowledge is abused without a moment’s hesitation. In the eventual outcome of the election, the votes of those who are easily manipulated are worth just as much as the votes of those who think for themselves.
That’s what encourages candidates to consciously use lies to dope their campaigns. There’s always a way back afterwards. You can claim that you were misunderstood, that this wasn’t really a promise, but that you were merely expressing something you wish could be done. Or the coalition partner didn’t allow you to see things through.
So it’s important to differ between dreaming big and fooling the voters.
Unfortunately this epidemic didn’t emerge in small places in the countryside, but in the capital, where campaigns are eagerly promising to deliver things for free: public transport, meals for kindergartens, extracurricular activities, and so on. Practice has demonstrated that this approach works, and so smaller places are going ahead and doing the same. Though they are forgetting an important detail: while Tallinn with its nationwide appeal actually has money in its budget to make these things a reality, other cities and municipalities generally don’t.
No party will attract as many votes with the promise to make planning processes faster and reduce bureaucracy to attract businesses as they will by promising something for free. Of course the former point is decidedly more important for the fostering of local development.
The local elections could be the best time for parties as well as election coalitions to come up with ideas how to slow down the marginalization of communities. But there are very few. The parties would rather try to outdo each other in the capital by making promises that will only deepen the inequality between the different parts of the country. If for example the Reform Party promises to get rid of kindergarten fees in Tallinn, but not everywhere else, this clearly is regional discrimination. This way they’re also putting their fellow party members in other municipalities in an impossible position, as they have no reasonable way of explaining what is going on.
A principal question is whether or not offering more and more public services for free is justified. If we address this locally, then it would be in the interest of fair development across the country to do it in precisely those places that are losing people, and not in a city that is attracting people from other communities anyway.
Erik Gamzejev is editor-in-chief of Põhjarannik, a local daily in Ida-Viru County.
Editor: Dario Cavegn