Guardians of Good Conduct Summarize: Campaigns Had More Substance, Still Too Much Bite

laine uudised-laine
10. Mar 2011


Now that the Elections to the Estonian Parliament have concluded, the time has come to review the campaign period. During the six weeks of active campaigning, NENO ran a program of Good Election Practices, monitoring the campaigns of all political parties running for office.

Good Election Practices called for parties to finance their campaign transparently, for candidates to refrain from abusing public positions and for everyone to focus on substantive debates instead of fearmongering, personal attacks and simplistic interpretations.

NENOs Guardians of Good Conduct – experts from academia, journalism and NGO activism – monitored the campaigns and drew up „Halls of Shame“ every week listing the worst offenders. Here are some examples from those lists.

With six weeks to go until Election Day, the Hall of Shame listed the following issues: Hiring campaign activists into public positions to cut costs; using party-affiliated public officials on posters for obvious campaign purposes in Tallinn; circulating invitations to a municipal family day in Tallinn kindergartens, signed by a candidate; spending €75,000 on Christmas Cards for Tallinn's citizens by the municipal government; the Centre Party's use of the Reform Party's symbolics on denigrating ads; twiddling over whether candidates would actually leave their jobs to serve in the parliament, if elected.

Five weeks before Election Day, the Hall of Shame listed the following issues: Featuring a Tallinn city official running for parliament on 7 pages of a municipal newspaper; handing out discount coupons for a skating rink carrying the image of a candidate in Tallinn; continued editorials by the Editor-in-Chief of the cultural weekly Sirp (the editorials ceased the following week); displaying the Minister for Economic Affairs and Communications on a brochure on funding opportunities for apartment houses; desperate cries for attention by high public officials volunteering to intermediate trivial information; not indicating party affiliation on flyers by a candidate.

Three weeks before E-Day: Municipal campaign „Tallinn Helps“ with images of the mayor (also the head of the Centre Party); packing municipal papers with party candidates; running free ads for campaign-related products in municipal papers; publishing candidates' portraits on flyers for municipal events, lack of a coherent party program for many unaffiliated candidates.

Two weeks before E-day, the absolute worst offender of the entire campaign period turned out to be a Centre Party official, who used a tragic accident in Haapsalu which resulted in the deaths of 10 disabled children for campaign purposes. Also admonished were the Reform Party for a TV ad demonizing the Centre Party, the Centre Party for posting ads in municipal buildings; Nõmme City District leader (Centre Party) for organizing free theatre visits for the elderly; and an MP sending campaign materials printed on the Parliament's official stationery.

The last Hall of Shame noted a Social Democratic candidate posing as his namesake, a mayor at a county centre, obscuring his party affiliation; Tallinn city officials distributing campaign ads at municipal events; using clips of prominent public personae praising candidates out of context; putting signs declaring „Not at home, went to vote for Savisaar“ (Centre Party leader) on people's doors; Centre Party TV ad scaring Russian-speaking voters; and Independence Day speeches by the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, which descended into campaigning.

On the whole, the campaign suffered from the usual problems of opaque funding, unequal opportunities, avoiding substantial debate, blurring the lines between serving in public office and campaigning, threatening voters and demonizing opponents, obscuring party membership and neglecting to publish information on the cost of campaign promises.

On the positive side, compared to 2007, campaigns were more substantial and less hostile this time around. According to sociologists, this can be attributed to the reduced financial means caused by the economic crisis and greater activism on the part of civil society institutions.