Friday, October 24, 2008

Out of Touch

Had a free day today and decided to watch the latest YLE debate for local elections in Finland. For me, having spent last weeks following American elections, the Finnish experience is somewhat disappointing. It is unbelievable how the chairpersons of Finnish political parties tend to forget that the voters in the elections are not the local governments but the people. The Chairs only talk about institutions, infrastructure and government. What people want and what people should do seems to be forgotten both by the politicians as well as the journalists hosting the debate. The great thing YLE, however, have done is bringing the Party Secretaries into the studio to help the Chairs in details.

The weakest from the debaters based on my judgement were the leader of the Greens Tarja Cronberg, leader of the Centre Party Matti Vanhanen and leader of the Social Democrats Jutta Urpilainen. Minister of Labour Cronberg spoke twice in the first hour and is not able to push forward the Green agenda on services and quality of life. She tries to balance urban life and rural areas but gets somewhat confused with all the aspects. She becomes a voice of the government rather than representing the Greens in local politics although she improves her performance towards the end. Prime Minister Vanhanen's problems are somewhat alike. As Prime Minister he seems to act like he would be somewhat above the others and ends up coming across as smug and arrogant and not willing to take any criticism. Opposition leader Urpilainen however falls into the trap of populism. She is not able to answer questions on how Social Democrats would fund their "more, more, more" agenda. Urpilainen also gets unfortunately agitated when pushed into the corner with tough questions.

The winners of the debate are the populist True Finns and the centre liberal National Coalition. They get their ideological message across (True Finns about defenfing the small man and National Coalition on balancing costs and income). Leader of the National Coalition, Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen manages to stay calm and push through the message that the current government has invested in municipalities. Leader of the centre-right Swedish People's Party, Minister of Culture Stefan Wallin manages also to be clear and talk about caring and climate change.

But the key problem is not between people, it is in the nature of the debate. The most absurd moment was the discussion over a recent poll where 62 % of respondents think that politicians can be bought in urban planning decisions. The reaction of the Party Secretary Jarmo Korhonen:"No Finnish politician can be bought. I know." That's the way Finnish dialogue works.

Overall the discussion stays in concepts only familiar to politicians and very seldom looks into the position of the individual in the changes. Dear leaders, no one uses words such as structure and resource in normal language. It enforces the idea that in order to take part in politics, you need to learn a new language.

1 comment:

Jaakko H. said...


Thanks for your interesting analysis with which I couldn't agree with more (even though I didn't see the debate).

With my eyes having been clearly more on the American elections, too, with even a tiny personal input in the game I've practically missed the Finnish elections almost totally. Counting out the blog posts of friends and others who are running and whose blogs I follow, that is.

It seems that I didn't really miss much, unfortunately. Sure I've always thought that these party chairman level debates are a bit odd in the local elections (even though understandable for our dear country is so small, homogeneous, and centrally-run-minded regardless of how liberal / local oriented a party we're talking about - and, of course, there are linkages to national politics).
But what's really (finally) struck me just over the couple of days, actually, is just how fundamental that being "out of touch" for our average politicians is. Or maybe rather, how undeveloped the Finnish dialogue often times is.

While the non-discussing discussion culture seemed to work relatively well in the 20th century but I have my deepening doubts about it fitting the 21st.
... Or maybe I've just been away for too long.

Just my 2 Friday cents.