Viewpoint: House sitting

Take note – story published 5 years and 8 months ago

A couple of weeks ago our colleagues at the LSM Latvian-language service unveiled a new project they had been working on for a long time: a multiple choice quiz devised to give voters in the forthcoming Saeima elections some idea of their general political affiliation.

With 16 parties contesting the elections, it is time consuming and difficult to go through all the party manifestos and this quick quiz was intended to point voters, based on their responses, in the direction of what their general political outlook is and how it corresponds with the various different party programs. If your Latvian language is up to the task, you can even take the test yourself at the LSM Latvian website.

Reactions to this project on social media were generally of three kinds. The first was: "Oh, this is interesting." The second reaction was: "I already knew which party I was going to vote for and this just confirmed it - what a waste of time." The third reaction was: "This told me my political alignment was different to what I had always assumed - how offensive. And what a waste of time."

At this point it is perhaps worth pointing out to the offended that filling out a questionnaire does not constitute an actual vote and they are still free to cast their ballot in whatever manner they choose - for the party that wants to shoot 30 people convicted of financial crimes to encourage reforms in the health service, or for the parties that rate the resumption of sugar production a national priority. A quiz does not constitute an executive order to vote a certain way (even when it comes from LSM), in the same way that a crossword puzzle does not constitute a legally binding contract.

Obviously as an employee of Latvian Public Media, and a foreigner into the bargain, I am completely impartial and have no business telling you who you should vote for, either.

However, I'll give it a try. Using a less high-tech approach.

Voters around the world have had to make many difficult, weird or unappealing democratic choices recently: Trump or Clinton? May or Corbyn? Macron or Le Pen? Putin or Putin? Now add upwards of another dozen contenders into the mix, all of which have some theoretical chance of winning some of the 100 seats in Saeima and it is hardly surprising Latvians might need some help deciding where to place their 'X'.

So I have developed a test of my own that has the benefit of not relying on any particular ideology, nor on any personal charisma or media-savvy any candidate may possess. The test is this: would you trust this person to house-sit with your dog for the weekend?

Cat people may substitute a feline if they wish.

It is a very simple question but conjures some very interesting scenarios. Let us say you have won a weekend break at a luxury hotel in Balvi. Or you are going to a high-powered business conference, also in Balvi. You cannot take Fido with you, so who do you call to come over and house-sit? Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis? MEP Roberts Zīle? Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs (how real is his much-publicized love of cats - maybe this is why he is not standing in the election)?

I won't list all 1,461 candidates, you get the idea.

Who can be relied upon to do the dishes? Who will remember to not only flush the chain in the toilet but use the brush and maybe even give a little squeeze of pine fresh disinfectant after them? Who will clear out the refrigerator and drinks cabinet and who will replenish them? Who will invite unsavory friends over for a pre-coalition keg party at your expense? Most of all, who will feed Fido and take him for walkies?

Upon your return from Balvi, what scene will greet you? A familiar room, swept clean and smelling of pine-fresh disinfectant, a furry friend bouncing to the door with shiny coat and wagging tail? Or a door hanging off its hinges, Fido a scrawny, flea-bitten mutt and the bodies of 30 people who fiddled their tax returns unburied in the back garden? 

If, having run this scenario through your mental hard drive, you remain unconvinced that a candidate can be trusted to properly run your household for a weekend, you probably shouldn't trust them to run the entire country for four years.

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