In just three weeks, voters will decide whom to entrust with leading the nation. Political parties have made a lot of promises to everyone, but political observers claim that amid all the hubbub, one major issue is lacking that would hint at the direction in which Estonia is to head in the future.
"There aren't really any new ideas," Tallinn University (TLÜ) Professor of Future Studies and Strategic Management Dr Erik Terk told ETV news broadcast Aktuaalne kaamera: Nädal.
The parties' election programmes are certainly voluminous, and each party has thought through those issues with which they hope to attract votes, but state and economic experts aren't satisfied.
The Riigikogu elections are three weeks away, but election programmes haven't offered up an issue that would get the public worked up and talking. According to Dr Terk, all of the election programmes can generally be summed up in four permeating ideas.
"First of all, each party clearly has to provide for some kind of ideological purity in the economy," he explained. "The next thing, especially if one is an opposition party, is finding some kind of area in which to deliver a swing to the government coalition."
The third, Dr Terk continued, was a "thing" of their own for everyone with which to head into the elections — be it a promise regarding something to be done or an amount that is to be increased. The fourth principle is to say something about literally every issue that comes up to ensure that that box is checked.
Party programmes short-sighted
Experts, however, are waiting for parties to address issues that Estonia will be facing in 10-20 years.
"First of all, how we will move forward in our economic development in such a way that we climb the global value chain (GVC) and progress toward a newer economic model that would help us climb out of the average income trap," said TLÜ Associate Professor of Comparative Politics Dr Tõnis Saarts.
Dr Terk added that over the next decade, the economy will have to stand up to different challenges than it faces today.
"What we are talking about is the fact that production is being automated, for example, and how we will come to terms with that," he explained. "And states are isolating themselves more from globalisation than in the past."
"Another challenge is connected to the ageing and shrinking of the population, which Estonia is facing regardless," Dr Saarts continued. "The question here is what kind of social system, what kind of state we are capable of maintaining in these conditions with an ageing and shrinking population."
The third issue Dr Saarts cited was the conflict between global openness and the preservation of the Estonian nation, ie whether the Estonian of the future will be welcoming and open or whether it will close its doors.
Experts, in any case, aren't finding long-term views in the parties' current election programmes.
Dr Terk nonetheless admitted thinking "wow" as he read the ambitious promise of political newcomer Estonia 200 to turn Estonia into the land of headquarters, but the topic has since dissipated and is no longer being discussed.
"Purely considering the current election competition situation, it seems to me as though the other parties have not caught the ball thrown by Estonia 200 — considered in the long term — because they know that this would more likely play in Estonia 200's favour," Dr Saarts suggested.
Campaign slogans not enough
Aktuaalne kaamera: Nädal asked why it is, then, that election programmes lack in great ambitions and hopes to solve complicated issues.
"First of all, when we actually consider it, there is a lack of strong societal pressure on the part of voters to address these issues — that there is something very wrong here, and we have to change something," Dr Saarts posited. "There is no such pressure, no desire."
Another concern, he believed, was that the issues Estonia is facing are so complicated and large in scale that no simple solutions or campaign slogans will solve them.
"The fact that one kind of economic policy will get the economy functioning better than another in the long term remains abstract for many voters, and so politicians act accordingly as well," Dr Terk added.
In addition to forward-looking and ambitious economic policy, experts would also like to see election programmes include ideas regarding how and what kind of state it will be possible to maintain in an Estonia with an ageing and shrinking population. It is this upon which state reform should be based.
"The parties can actually be praised for the fact that state reform has been included at greater length and depth in their platforms than ever before," said Rauno Vinni, project manager at the State Reform Radar, praising Estonia 200, the Reform Party, Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) in particular in this regard.
Party programmes touch on increasing public capacity, reducing administrative burden and bureaucracy, and e-governance. While this will make services in Estonia faster and more efficient, there is another side to it not addressed by the election programmes.
"If we want to transition to very comprehensive e-governance, then that will cost a great deal," he highlighted. "Investments will be big, and that may not provide hoped-for savings."
High time to ask questions
In Mr Vinni's opinion, there is also a difference between promising the accessibility of services and actual opportunities.
"We as a society are still ultimately incapable — and it also may just not be technically possible — of ensuring paramedic services at the exact same standards in rural areas and cities alike," he explained. "And politicians should talk about this more — that maybe it is important to agree on these standards, but that these standards may differ from place to place, as uniform high quality is simply incredibly expensive."
In the three weeks remaining ahead of the elections, it is high time for voters to ask what the standard of services is where they live, and where the money for them will come from.
Editor: Aili Vahtla