Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Time for a change?

Yesterday I cast my ballot in advance of the Estonian Parliamentary elections coming up in March. I've voted before in the Estonian national elections but this one was more relevant to me since I spent the last 2 years in Tallinn and have more of a connection and understanding of the country. I was happy to cast my vote but came away from the experience a bit confused and thinking that the Estonian electoral system needs some changes, let me explain.

First off, I barely understand how candidates make it to parliament. I've tried to read the voting laws and any other information I can find in Estonian and English but it's still not clear and I couldn't properly explain it to anyone else. I know that each party usually has 4-5 candidates per riding, but most of them don't have a chance of making it to riigikogu but at the same time no matter how low on the list you are you always have a shot at an individual mandate if you get enough votes. I know that a party needs at least 5% to get any seats but there are still areas that I can't fully understand. Why it needs to be so confusing? On top of that the entire process of voting seems to be too complicated based on my experience from yesterday.

I went to the Eesti Maja on Broadview Ave. since the consulate is located there and voting would be held there and at one of the larger Estonian senior homes in Toronto. I arrived before the after work rush so there wasn't too many people there but I asked and was told that turnout during the day had been exceptionally good. When I arrived I was asked if I was on the voting list, I was, if I hadn't been I would have had to provide my Estonian passport (which I had) or since most foreigners born with Estonian citizenship (valiseestlased) don't have a passport they would have had to provide valid Canadian documentation and have been authorized by the consul in order to prove they are Estonian, from what I've heard a couple of people have voted here only to be later denied by officials in Eesti but this is quite rare.

Once I had been verified to vote I was asked what riding (ringkond) I would be voting in. There are 12 ridings in Eesti and normally you simply vote in the one that you are living and registered in. However, since foreigners aren't registered anywhere you're allowed to basically choose a riding to vote in. In many cases people vote in the ancestral riding that they or their family left in the 1940's, if they don't vote there then they tend to default to Tallinn nr.1. This step often confuses both old and young alike and can lead to people voting in ridings where they have no knowledge of the candidates or issues.

I voted in Tallinn nr.1 not because of a default but because I had lived there for the past 2 years and thought it was appropriate. Once I had selected my riding I went to the little voting booth and needed to write a number on a piece of paper to register my vote. In order to get that number I had to look at the voting book (the whole book is listed here since people vote is almost all ridings), find my riding, then find the party I was supporting, then find the candidate's number. In total there are roughly 900 candidates so finding the one you want to vote for isn't the easiest exercise. By the time I've gone through all these steps I'm not longer sure who I've voted for, I can only imagine what the elderly pensioners who come to vote think of this process. Now since my candidate isn't high on the list there's a small chance he'll win and because I don't fully understand the way the system works I'm not really sure what will happen to my vote, oh well.

I'm no electoral expert but I see a few areas for improvement:
- Look at reducing the total number of seats in parliament, does a small country of 1.3 million need 101 representatives?
- Either create more ridings or put a more realistic cap on number of candidates in each riding. I don't think I've ever heard of a election system where a party has 4-5 candidates vying for the same vote. This also reduces the direct access government since your riding isn't represented by 1 person but a number of people. In Canada we have 1 candidate per riding and usually candidates have town hall debates and meetings where people discuss local events and issues. Can you imagine all the candidates in Tallinn nr.1 getting together and having a debate?
- Make the voting process simpler, instead of selecting a number to write down why not hand out a list of the candidates and next to it you place an X to mark your vote. That way you're sure who you voted for instead of worrying if the number is right. There should be no room for voting errors (don't get me started on why Americans can't figure out how to hold an election) and a simple X marks the candidate seems to work well from most countries.

There's been talk about electoral change recently which is good. I think the overly complicated system makes it harder for people to decide and lowers turnout.

It will be interesting to see what voter turnout in Eesti is like, how many people vote online and who comes out on top. I'm looking forward to March 4th.

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Blogger Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

How do you think parliament works? First, parliament needs to be representative. Literally, in order for us to have one Jew in the parliament we have to have those 101 seats. Though we could keep going well enough without (this Jew), it would still be good to have him or "rohelised" in the parliament. I would agree more if you said that the number of parties is too big. Why cant we just have three?

Secondly, parliament works in commissions. Or at least it is supposed to. Parliament members specialize. One cannot go from Pressurize Equipment Safety Act one day and Theathes Act another day. Even with advisors they have pretty much on every issue they have to understand basics about both Theathres and pressurized equipment.

Commission on defence, commission on legal issues, on foreign policies, agriculture fishery and forestry, commission on control over security services and so on. You want to have democratic control over security services, army and education don't you? And on agriculture (think of food safety)? Well if we cut on MPs some of those tasks would have be handed over to civil servants.
These are the fields you cannot cut on as long as there's a state to run. Every commission has to have several members - best if you can get a liberal, a conservator, a socialist and a nacionalist and just somebody from simple folk in every commission so they can vote on whatever the commision decides to work on. If you consider that any state should have at least some 20 fields needing parliamentary attention and that most of MPs dislike being in more than 1 such body you pretty much end up with 100 MPs.

5:10 PM  

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