September 2001

Return to politics?

Representative democracy also needs referendums and citizens' movements, argues Jyrki Räikkä, the editor of the Green weekly newspaper Vihreä Lanka (24 August 2001). Continuing the debate on the relationship between representative democracy and citizens' organisations, Räikkä returns to his earlier criticism of Professor Matti Wiberg's highly negative views on these movements.

In his new book, Paluu politiikkaan (Return to politics), Wiberg is concerned about the sorry state of political parties and condemns the idea of referendums. Räikkä points out that whatever Wiberg's conclusions, his book is full of descriptions of how badly the Finnish political system is working.

"In the midst of a flood of norms, even ministers — not to speak of members of parliament — don't always know what they have decided. Politicians are only interested in the issues of their reference groups and in the election markets bad politicians push aside good ones. As ideological differences have narrowed if not disappeared, politics is ever more about single decisions, not values."

Considering how extremely rare referendums are in Finland, Räikkä is surprised how much energy Wiberg puts into criticising them. Wiberg thinks that they weaken political responsibility and make social debate "one-dimensional, banal and demonised". "Populistic propaganda" can mislead people. A referendum vote based on "bad information" carries the same weight as one "properly informed".

Räikkä says that both direct and representative people's power run the risk that voters make questionable choices. Whatever the election form, the reason for voting "wrong" can be ignorance, frustration or misleading political advertising or publicity. Räikkä doesn't think that representative democracy and referenda rule each other out. He also labels artificial Wiberg's way of seeing citizens' movements and political parties as in contradiction to each other.

"He labels organisations from animal liberation movements to Greenpeace as narcissistic and elitist single-issue movements whose 'centralised militant leadership' is not politically responsible to anyone. In Wiberg's view it is especially unacceptable that as 'social dippers' citizens' movements are only interested in issues which are important for them — as if this human characteristic was unknown to political parties which orientate themselves according to their supporters."

Räikkä denies that citizens' movements are trying to undermine political parties and campaign outside parliamentary decision-making channels.

"Almost all organisations have close lobbying connections to parties and parliament. Unfounded is also the fear that the actions of citizens' movements weaken a general interest in society. The gate theory of politics ensures that after 'single issues' people get interested in other issues as well."

See also:

From the archive:

Why not ask the people?

11 July 2001

From disorder to a new order

26 June 2001

Towards transparent decision-making

27 April 2001

Teenagers snub politics

16 March 2001

Citizens trust police and army

31 October 2000

New social attitudes detected in research

26 October 2000

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