Watching the final debate between the leaders of the political parties in Sweden, my reflection was a very different one from the one that was dominant in the media.
I started to imagine what it would be like for someone in a country like Guatemala, to follow the Swedish election campaign.
For those of you who are not updated: Sweden held its national elections two weeks ago. The mayor, governing party since World War II has been the Social Democratic party. And in later decades interchangeably, centre-right coalitions. What was new this year was the increased support for the anti-immigration party, the Swedish Democrats. The only sensational thing happening in responsible, but oh so dull Swedish politics for decades.
I have lived in Guatemala, but it is just an example of a country that is officially a democracy. But where power and wealth are in the hands of a minor elite, while larger parts of the population live in poverty. Corruption and impunity is rife. Most people on this planet live in malfunctioning countries like that; or in countries where you are not even able to vote.
A Guatemalteco would probably have been astonished….
….to see politicians following the rules.
During the campaign, a few reports on violent incidences or attempts of fraud occurred. They would not have reached the headlines in Guatemala. None of the political leaders in Sweden are accused of corruption or any dodgy behavior.
In Sweden, people take pride in following the rules. Jumping a queue is a cardinal sin. A local politician who tried to sell votes to another party through his mosque, was quickly and firmly excluded from his party.
….that the political leaders talked about the future.
During the final debate, there were some attempts at blaming the present prime minister for his government’s deficiencies, but the focus was by and large on the future. Not just the next election period. “What should we do about future energy supply”. “Strategies for improving integration in the long-run.” Be it more conditional benefits; or easier access to employment.
None of the participants talked about “glory days” or trying to turn back time. Maintaining the status quo, for the sake of stability, due to internal or external threats, was not on anybody´s agenda. Sweden is exceptionally forward looking and has made that part of their identity. Progress is what matters, not sentimentality.
….that they all agree on the basics and support the welfare state.
The political leaders, first and foremost represent their parties. But they also want to serve the whole nation. They are not on an egotripping, me-me voyage. Hence, there is a strong consensus around the welfare state. Besides, no sane politician, with the hope of gaining any votes, would suggest any alterations related to universal health care, pensions, free education or social benefits.
Their differences consist more on how to frame and finance the system, now and in the future. Be it the labour market or social benefits. Is it better to receive migrants in Sweden? Or should we instead concentrate more on helping people in their home regions? And so on.
Furthermore, Sweden is mainly a secular country, and religion plays an imperceptible role in society. Not even the relatively small Christian Democratic Party mentioned anything related to the Bible during their campaign. No “God bless you”. That would have been suicide. No mention of abortion or gay rights during the debate.
What could politicians in a country like Guatemala learn from this?
If they were willing to? That all it takes is to climb a step or two up the ladder of emotional maturity.
To be a little more concerned about following the rules, though your opponents may not.
Start to be a little less concerned about your own bank accounts. Be a bit more concerned about the welfare of your people. You will be amazed to find that your own well-being will improve as a result. Doing things for others, in this case your own people, is what makes you happy. Accumulating illicit wealth at the direct or indirect expense of the poor, does not.
And do remember, history does not fare well with those who cheat. Guatemala’s last president was ousted due to corruption: the current president is a suspect of fraud.
Start talking about solutions, not just here and now, but for the future.
Instead of spending time and energy on blaming others for the sad state of your country, permeated by violence and drug traffic. How would you like Guatemala to look like 20 years from now? What concrete steps will you take to get there? And articulate that vision to your voters.
And Juan, Maria and all the others need to stand up and demand that from their politicians. Do not accept that “you know what politicians are like”. If you do, you will get more of what you already have. The less you accept the more they have to improve. Even in a country with restrained freedom of speech, people are not voiceless.
Guatemaltecos, and especially the indigenous population, of whom more than two thirds live in poverty, have taken to the streets, protesting against corruption and the president.
Protests have gained momentum since the president’s attempt to disband the respected and popular International Commission Against Impunity of the United Nations in Guatemala.
Demonstrations are a good start, but it takes a well-organised movement with perseverance to achieve lasting change. As was the case in Sweden. What does not work is to sit around and wait for great leaders with integrity to turn up. You have to make it happen.