Three of the 15 proposals made to the Riigikogu after the People’s Assembly deliberation day held on 6 April 2013 have become laws, and another four have been partly implemented or commitments in the government programme.
In the beginning of the year the Riigikogu decided to reduce the number of recruited members required for the establishment of a political party. It also reduced the candidate deposit, established stricter punishments for accepting prohibited donations, extended the authorities of the Political Party Financing Supervision Committee and increased state financing for political parties that failed to achieve the election threshold. The legal amendments that require the parliament to start official procedures based on public petitions were adopted in March.
One of the organisers of the People’s Assembly, e-Governance Academy Programme Director Liia Hänni, considers the right to petition the most important of these decisions. “Raising issues that are relevant for general society is no longer the monopoly of the government, political parties and politicians, but each and every one of us,” she said. “The law encourages us to find at least a thousand people who support the citizen initiative – certainly not an unachievable threshold, considering how networked Estonian society is.”
Urmo Kübar of the Network of Estonian Non-profit Organisations NENO found that although MPs worked with the proposals at a pace customary for the Riigikogu procedures, politicians failed to use the opportunity to considerably strengthen cooperation and trust between decision-makers and citizens after the People’s Assembly. “The enthusiasm of ordinary people to contribute to policies, not just by making critical demands but more by proposing solutions, could be clearly felt at the time of the People’s Assembly. Unfortunately, the Riigikogu turned away the offered support and maintained their preference to closed working processes and a rather dismissive attitude.”
The most important result of the People’s Assembly in the opinion of Kübar is that an innovative way of involving stakeholders, experts and the general public in discussions of important policy issues was proved to work in Estonia. “After the People’s Assembly, no one can justifiably say that people wouldn’t be interested or able to offer smart opinions about complicated issues,” he said.
Expert at the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies Hille Hinsberg noted that the Riigikogu has not yet expressed a clear opinion about some of the proposals, but the organisers of the People’s Assembly will be keeping an eye on further progress. “The main thing we’re waiting for is a more specific schedule of amendments to the Election Act,” she said. “The impact of suggested changes in the organisation of elections was thoroughly assessed by top experts, and the proposed amendments received a lot of support on the deliberation day. This is why it’s important for the Parliament to address the topic of elections.”
What was People’s Assembly?
Several issues associated with the financing of political parties that caused public resentment preceded the People’s Assembly, as in the end of 2011, the parliament parties came out with a plan to establish so-called democracy development foundations, which would be generously financed from the state budget; and an ex-MP´s confession in May 2012 that he had donated money received from party leaders to the Reform Party although the origin of the money was unknown.
Protest marches declaring resentment with dirty politics were held in Tallinn and Tartu in November; after which a group of opinion leaders published a declaration called Charter12, which was signed by more than 18,000 petitioners in the subsequent weeks.
The decision to rely on the combination of democratic discussions and collective thought in the search of solutions was borne at the meeting, which was held at the initiative of the President on 21 November 2012 in the Ice Cellar at Kadriorg and attended by representatives of parliamentary parties, non-government organisations and scientists.
The crwodsrourcing deliberative process – People’s Assembly – was organised by a network of Civil Society activists consisting of the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies, the Network of Estonian Non-profit Organisations NENO, the Open Estonia Foundation, the e-Governance Academy. The core team also included representatives of the four parliamentary parties and the representative of the Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia as well as several IT and communication specialists.
A website was created in January 2013, and within three weeks 2044 people submitted ca 6000 proposals on how to make the financing of political parties more transparent and accountable, how to boost competition in political movements, how to increase the weight of a voter’s voice in elections, how to improve the opportunities of citizens to participate in policy-making and how to reduce unnecessary politicisation in society.
The analysis of Praxis divided the proposals into 59 categories which recieved impact analysis by experts, including legal and social scientists, officials and politicians, in February and March. Five discussion seminars were held in March and attended by persons who submitted proposals and experts. The relevance of the submitted ideas and their impact on the solution of problems was assessed, and 18 most important issues were selected for the deliberation day held on 6 April, 2013.
A sample of 314 people selected randomly all across the country, i.e. a mini-model of Estonian society according to gender, age and residence, took part in the deliberation day. The pros and cons of various solutions were discussed at tables of ca ten people and each participant then selected the option they preferred the most.
The survey carried out among the participants at the end of the deliberation day indicated that people found the discussions interesting, they participation opportunities were sufficient and considered the day a success even if they ended up in the minority with their opinions. 87% of the respondents said that they gained new knowledge of Estonian politics and the topics discussed during the day and 82% said that they became more interested in the discussed topics and politics. 51% of the participants changed at least some of their earlier opinions as a result of the discussions and the information they received, 19% changed several opinions and 29% did not change any of their earlier opinions.
Approximately three thousand people participated in the process of the People’s Assembly that lasted 14 weeks The budget of the People’s Assembly was ca 100,000 euros, the majority of which was spent on the organisation of the discussion day. The funding came mostly from the Open Estonia Foundation and the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, but many private persons and companies contributed with donations and or free-of-charge services.
For further information, please contact:
Olari Koppel, Estonian Cooperation Assembly,
Liia Hänni, e-Governance Academy,
Hille Hinsberg, Praxis Centre for Policy Studies,
Urmo Kübar, Network of Estonian Non-profit Organisations NENO,