Poland voted in local elections on Sunday, 21st of November. These elections, being local, were not news outside Poland. Deplorably, the reticence of international media was contrasted with Polish media missing the point entirely. By featuring major, smouldering politicians, who are no longer active on local scale, the coverage in countrywide media brought into existence and conveyed the impression that local elections are, as much as parliamentary elections, confined to the competition between political parties. Only local media were – as perhaps we should have expected them to be – reasonable and featured local candidates and issues to some degree.
This is a worrying problem because it might indeed convince people that political parties which have well-thought-out programmes on national scale have such programmes on local scale and have people who can do a good job in local governing bodies. These expectations are highly dubious and we cannot expect to find them to be correct in all local communities. The incertitude of political parties’ significance in local elections is further enhanced by a following phenomenon: after all local elections many coalitions are formed in local bodies that could not have been reached on national scale. Either the programmes on national and local scales are different or those parties are in the business only to seize hold of political power. Both of these cases indicate that trusting nationwide political parties on local scale is not a first-class strategy.
Yet most people do vote for the first person on the list of their favourite political party. By that act they are giving away their own vote to the politicians who create those lists. A convincing case would be hard to present for the idea that the lists are being assembled with the community’s eudaemonia in mind. Incidentally, it is not politicians’ responsibility to ensure prosperity of local populations, their obligation is to get as much power as possible for the party. It is the voter’s duty to choose people who are pursuing well-being of their community.
The main reason for such behaviour is not people’s benightedness though. It is caused by the chief and ineffaceable problem with local elections – candidates’ anonymity. There are virtually no debates, no programmes and no easy way to become acquainted with the candidates. And most of them are largely innominate to the community. Usually there are a few well-known people, but voting during the local elections consist in, for the most part, either voting for people picked out by other politicians or shooting in the dark.
This situation is incorrigible, at least systematically. It is possible to persuade local communities to demand programmes and debates but it will not become a countrywide policy in the near future. Nonetheless, there seems to be a systematic way in which voters can make local elections yield better results.
I would argue that we can use the same method for making local communities blossom as we use for fighting poverty in the world. We are familiar with the best known cure for poverty – it is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from the animal cycle of compulsory reproduction. It has been confirmed in Bangladesh and Bolivia, to name a couple of examples, that if women get some command over the rate of their reproduction and some control over the economy – not only poverty, but also health and education will be greatly improved. I think it can be argued that the same technique might help raise the levels of wealth, education and health care in local communities – electing more women thus giving them more authority over local communities. It is doubtlessly a useful thought experiment to contemplate this idea.
That, however, is not the only reason why the empowerment of women in local politics should be desirable. Currently most local governing bodies are bestridden by men. That does necessarily mean that all decisions are based on male point of view. The few women being there will not be feeling comfortable enough to speak up when they are greatly outnumbered. This is clearly disadvantageous as diversity of thought is an obvious route to better decision making process.
I do not propose using the increasingly popular gender parities (over 50% of Poles support those), because while I assent to the idea that it is probably helping the case, and helping it countrywide, the parities are not going to give the power to voters, but will instead keep the power in the hands of politicians creating lists of candidates. The lists would be then artificially inflated with women who are not necessarily fitting for the job, whereas now women who are courageous enough to enlist are by all probability quite competent. The parities would certainly not work on parliamentary level, where all the decisions are made by leaders of the ruling party, therefore largely defeating the point of having more women, as they would be merely providing their mandates for the decisions of male leaders. It might be a reasonable idea on local scale, where the power of political parties is lower and the decisions are agreed on by a larger number of people. That said, it still is an artificial system, which makes elections less free by taking away voters’ inalienable right to elect whomever they wish and therefore necessarily lowering the esteem of democracy.
I do not suggest voting exclusively for women either, that would be absurd. If you know the candidates you should choose the one who is better equipped for the job. But, as I have mentioned, it is usually not the case in local elections. If you have a choice of two equally good candidates, one of which is a man and the other – a woman, vote for the woman. If you are just groping for an outstanding candidate, vote for a woman instead of a man. Realisation of the necessity of feminism in local elections should greatly enhance the voting outcome and render the local elections more shrewd by giving some choice to the voters and taking it back from the hands of scrofulous politicians.