Sunday, October 21, 2007

Election day

Today's an interesting day for someone who likes politics. Elections are the concrete acts of democracy, the moment where most literally the power is at people's hands.

Today Åland elects their regional parliament. Usually nothing that happens in this autonomic region is talked about in the Finnish news, unless it happens to have something to do with shipping news or potato chips. Or lately football. But politics? Not really.

This time there has been some discussion about the campaigns, as a group that promotes Åland's full independence has managed to bring the issue of autonomy on the agenda. They are a very small force but have managed to force other parties to discuss what the relationship between Finland and Åland should be. Although full independence probably isn't what the majority of Åland wants, the discussion has been electrified.

Not nearly as electrified as in Switzerland, though. The Swiss federation has been known as the cradle of political consensus. Everyone more or less agrees on things, apart from the small bunch of communist students who focus on squatting and demonstrations rather than party politics and elections. The parties all form a government together and manage the alpine country to a few more years of economic prosperity until the next election. Things have been different this time.

The right wing Swiss People's Party shocked with their openly racist campaign. That has stirred the whole nation usually known for their tolerance and especially the 20% of the population who are of foreign origin.

Tolerance and intolerance are being on the agenda in Poland, as well. (See all these fancy associations and bridges of thought from one country to another?) They'd be called the three stooges but luckily there are only two of them. The Kaczynski Brothers have in a very short time managed to get most of Europe to hope for the loss of their Law and Justice Party in today's parliamentary elections. One of the two, and forgive me for forgetting which one, Jaroslavl or Lech, is the president and of course will remain in power after today, but the other might lose his seat as the prime minister.

The K-bros are known for their very destructive negotiation tactics in the EU. The essence of them can be summarised as "give us what we want or we stall everything". Now, unfortunately this isn't very different from how most other European leaders see European politics these days, but it is perhaps the most extreme and open version of it. I have to say that justifying your political actions or demands in the EU today with what happened in the WWII is simply tasteless and too much.

The Catholic conservatism of the Law and Justice party has also become a concern. Now, I'm not trying to say everyone needs to be very liberal on everything (although I tend to be), but as EU and all its members have already banned capital punishment, for human rights reasons, it would seem silly for someone to block the initiative to name a day to commemorate the issue. And yet, the K-Bros did.

(I have to apologise in advance because the last link and of association is so clumsy...) Perhaps they would like to see Poland and the EU to develop to be more like China, where they just won't tolerate any of that woolly liberal nonsense. And yes, China is the last stop of this globetrotting tour of elections. Typically for China, these elections are a bit different from the others. This time it isn't the people voting, but the Communist Party is electing members for the central committee. The importance of this is that it is the first party meeting that the current president Hu Jintao has organised and thus it is the first time he can make his mark on the ideology, programme and lineup of the party and its main organs.

In his speeches he has outlined his objectives for "harmonic development" of China. He has mentioned the environment, he has mentioned the poorest people, he has mentioned the rural areas. All have suffered greatly during the last 10 or so years when China has opened up for business and underwent massive redevelopment, concentration of population into cities. The environmental and human cost has been massive. It remans to be seen how much of all this is just rhetorics and how much will actually change. In a proper democracy with free speech and freedom of information this would be easy to measure and see, but as mentioned, China is different. At least the elections are going Hu's way, as the vice president Zeng Qinghong did not get re-elected to the central committee and has to step down. He was one of the "old guard" who was there to make sure things don't change too fast with the new president. Hu is now getting rid of these chaperons and staffing the strategically important offices with people loyal to him.

I'm already planning to have a long coffee break tomorrow morning, after the lecture, to read through all the news from all these elections.

(Pic: Swiss People's Party's brain fart for election poster. Not racist, they say. Via

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