Friday, September 15, 2006

Estonica: Presidential

The term of the current President of Estonia is running out soon. They're electing a new one.

There are currently two contenders. The incumbent is a familiar figure who used to run the country in the Soviet days, and was then involved in the liberation movement. The other is an American expat, son of WWII-era refugees, that came back to Estonia after 1991.

The Soviet guy is supported by the party that controls the capital and the biggest single chunk of the popular vote. The American guy is supported by the ruling coalition. The smear campaigns have been in full force for weeks.

Here's the kicker: not only doesn't the President of Estonia have any political power, but he's not even elected directly. The parliament had its chance, but the coalition fell three votes short of the necessarity majority. The opposition simply didn't show up for the vote, afraid of renegades in their own ranks. Now it's up to a caucus made up of representatives from local governments. The opposition carried the capital and gave no delegates to the coalition; the coalition carried the second biggest city and returned the favor. Some local councils were deadlocked and failed to elect any representatives at all.

Estonia is a multiparty parliamentary republic where prime ministers don't make it from one general election to the next. It's small enough that the politicians are kept in check more or less effectively. There isn't really a significant difference in platforms, and a voter's choice comes down simply to who you dislike less.

As a result, politics in Estonia is an inconsequential soap opera, with a familiar cast of fumbling characters. You can observe it with curiosity or incredulity. Or even annoyance.

Estonia's national football team has a specific pattern for home games: they look really good, have a bunch of feasible shots on goal. Ocasionally they'll pull off a nil-nil draw against Croatia or a noble 0-1 loss against Portugal, off an interdimensional fluke in their defense. You always feel like they're about to pull off something awesome, a brilliant flash of competence. And then they inexplicably crash and burn.

Estonia's political scene is much the same.

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