What's Wrong with This Politics?

   Mar 17, 2024     3 min read

The Prime Minister of Iceland is asked whether she is considering a presidential bid, and she cannot answer this simple question with a simple answer. How strange does politics have to be for a sitting Prime Minister to not just say ‘no, I am not going to run for President of Iceland’? Meanwhile, by not answering the question clearly, the Prime Minister keeps all options open. If anyone in Iceland should answer this question decisively, it should be the Prime Minister. The minister who exercises presidential powers on behalf of the president according to the constitution.

But this is nothing new. Politicians seem to have a hard time answering the simplest questions clearly. Often the answers are, of course, vague because the question is vague, but in this case, as in many others, the question is very clear - yet the answers are not.

Wait a minute, someone might say, citing examples of politicians who answer with a clear yes or no. It does happen. Mainly when decisions have been made or agreements reached. However, that’s not where the myth of politicians who answer no questions comes from. It’s usually quite easy to ask politicians fact-based questions. They usually answer these questions clearly, although the answer can, of course, be correct or wrong depending on the situation. No, it’s the opinion questions that seem to be difficult for politicians. Why?

According to the constitution, ‘Members of Parliament are only bound by their conscience and not by any rules from their voters.’ In other words, MPs should follow their conscience in all matters. However, this sometimes seems complicated. In some parties, the position within the party seems to matter. If someone is a regular MP, then their conviction tends to follow the opinion of the chairman, generally speaking. However, if someone is in the party leadership, the opinions are often not so clear, despite actually being decisive for the party’s stance. Thus, the opinions of regular MPs become as vague as the chairman’s.

Then, in a coalition government, the opinions of MPs need not only follow the opinions of their party leader but also the views of the government. This does not necessarily go against the constitutional provision about the MPs’ convictions. It can simply be the MP’s conviction to follow their leader’s conviction, for example. But the fact remains that people’s opinions change in government compared to in the opposition. The reason for this is the majority coalition and how it works, at least in the current government.

Parties in a majority coalition are not just agreeing on issues they all agree on. They also compromise on pushing through matters they actually disagree on, regarding their convictions, as long as the other parties are then willing to agree to something else in return. This can theoretically be objective; one step back in one issue can justify two steps forward in another. It’s always seen as possible to make progress later, on average, progress is being made. Here I want to point out that this is not my conviction nor the general conviction of the Pirates, as the Pirate Party’s basic policy states that ‘Current rights must be protected, and care must be taken not to infringe upon them.’

But this is what the much-talked-about compromise is all about. That politicians now need to be able to compromise. Yes, of course. These are obvious truths. But one always has to consider the cost of those compromises. If the cost is reduced rights, then those are not steps we should take. That’s not progress.

But it’s just that some politicians believe in going backwards. These are just viewpoints and convictions that have their democratic weight, and everyone has their own opinion on what is progress and what is regression. We will argue about it until the sun swallows the Earth, and longer if we manage to leave Earth. One thing we should be better at, however, is demanding clear answers from politicians about their opinions. What’s your conviction? What do you think? Do you think the sitting Prime Minister should jump into a presidential candidacy without any warning? I certainly don’t think so, and I find it unacceptable that it’s not possible to answer that question decisively one way or another. There’s something wrong with such politics.