Mistrust of politicians runs rampant, poll shows

  • 2010-01-27
  • By Arta Ankrava

RIGA - The news agency LETA reports that according to a study commissioned by Eurobarometer Standard, an overwhelming majority, 95 percent, of Latvian citizens do not trust the country’s political parties. Hardly jaw dropping, this news accentuates the previously addressed topic of general mistrust among the Latvian public.
The same study showed that more people trust the parliament and government, though just slightly, as these numbers still tip an impressive 92 percent and 88 percent of public mistrust, respectively, in these institutions. What does this signal? Perhaps, that there is still more belief in the institutions of Saeima (parliament) and the government than in political parties. More people consider state institutions as a better representation of their interests than they do political parties, hence more trust. Even though both of these institutions are in fact made up of representatives from parties, the establishments themselves are seen as more trustworthy than their members.

Maybe this is due to a type of stability the state stands for, however bruised. Political parties, on the other hand, especially in their make-up, tend to shift with the predictability of a freak tidal wave – you know it is coming, especially in an election year, but you never know exactly how and when. You also do not know if it will bring back old “captains” from years ago who look at their absence from the political scene the last 7 years as a good enough reason to sail back into politics.

Speaking of sailing away, the same study revealed that almost half of the population in Latvia believes their children would be better off if they emigrated. At the same time, 43 percent of the people surveyed did not trust the European Union and even more consider that Latvia has not benefited from being a part of the union. The question is – where do Latvians want their kids emigrating to? – further into the EU (can it be trusted in other countries?) or overseas? Interestingly, more than 60 percent of Europeans expressed a concern about their children’s future being more difficult than their life is, whereas only 41 percent of Latvian citizens were pessimistic in this sense.

On a more positive note, two thirds of the surveyed said they evaluated their future optimistically and 57 percent admitted being very, or quite satisfied with their lives. It would be interesting to further examine the prospects of the former group – how much of their optimism had to do with plans to, for example, leave Latvia or to receive a desirable election outcome this fall.
In light of this study any election seems like a bit of a somber joke. Who to vote for during a national pandemic of mistrust? Politicians definitely have their work cut out for them this year, and for this reason it promises to be an exciting couple of months. Not only do parties have to do their regular campaigns, they must in fact rebuild the voters’ trust in the parliament and government, otherwise turnouts promise to be remarkably low.

At least that is what the case should be, with only 5 percent of the population trusting political groups. The good news is that there is sure to be a “fresh” political party emerging soon, mobilizing the society. It is an election year, and that is pretty much a given. The bad news is that this does not mean there will be actual “fresh” parties, apart from a sleek logo and smooth rebuttals from previous political engagements.

Unfortunately, history shows that nothing does the trick quite as well as a simple reshuffle of the old “gang” into new political slots. The voter is often confused by the commotion and casts a ballot for any “emerging” political force on the scene, which in reality hosts all the familiar faces he distrusted the last time around. The vicious cycle of mistrust is bound to spiral on for a while yet, although there probably would not be a better point in time to break it than now.