In recent years it has been impossible to avoid hearing the phrase “politics is broken” in public discussions in Finland. But what does it really mean, is our politics really broken? First, politics is the art of ruling, taking care of common needs and influencing others. Authoritarianism is politics too and dictators are politicians. In the Finnish context the phrase about politics being broken refers to our form of government, democracy, being broken. But is this really the case?
It is true, that there are many things that we must work on, such as voter turnouts and the political inclusion of youth. Lacking in financial skills and economic disparity also reflect on how politically active citizens are. Despite these problems Finland, alongside other Nordic countries, find themselves on top of international comparisons on a multitude of topics. Our democracy and freedoms are faring very well.
It is worth comparing Finnish democracy to countries where things we take for granted are missing. Let’s look at the situation in Macedonia, a state with high hopes to begin its ascension negotiations with the EU.
In 2015 a scandal broke, that the Prime Minister of Macedonia at the time had, with the help of his cousin working in the secret police, been secretly listening to Macedonian citizens and even his own party members. Recordings of conversations with the latter ended up revealing incriminating details, such as covering up deaths of protesters and corruption.
The situation in Macedonia was revealed when someone in the secret police leaked the recordings, not to government-controlled law enforcement or judicial organisations, but to the opposition. The scandal did not lead to the government getting ousted, instead it stayed in power for a few more years. This was possible, because the prerequisites for holding a fair and free election simply weren’t there. Organizing an election took a year and a half, massive protests in the country and pressure from the international community. Finally, in December 2016 the elections were held, but the ruling government refused to abscise from power – regardless of the results of the election and negotiations to form a new government.
The country hit rock bottom about five months after the elections, when representatives of the old ruling party let violent protesters into the parliament building where the new parliament was in the process of formation. The situation got violent and chaotic, but fortunately there were no casualties. After this incident, partly because of international attention, the new government was able to form and begin its work. Six months after the elections.
In Macedonia democracy really is broken. When those in power face a choice of clinging to power or serving time in prison, the will of the people doesn’t make much difference. There are many countries around the world where the situation is similar. Compared to them, Finnish democracy is doing great – despite few sluggish working groups and lagging reforms. We have a system that we can critique freely and work to develop. We can place our trust political institutions and elections make a difference.
We can say we have a functioning democracy in Finland. By no means is it perfect, in the past years we have dropped from the lead in international rankings in freedom of the press and corruption, but we are still a way ahead in these compared to our Fifa -ranking. We need to take care of our own system and support other countries in developing their own democratic systems. Let’s keep democracy strong and alive in Finland and strengthen it where we can. This is the invaluable work Demo Finland does in Tunisia, Mozambique, Zambia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka and the Kalevi Sorsa Foundation in Macedonia.
Samuli Sinisalo (MA) is a member of Demo’s Executive Board, representing the Social Democrats. He works in the Kalevi Sorsa Foundation in a project strengthening Macedonian civil society. The project “Supporting democracy in a multi-ethnic Macedonia” is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.