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Estonia is joining a host of other countries that are looking to crowdsource governance in order to bring greater accountability into politics.
The Baltic republic's initiative, named Charter 12, began in mid-November as part of the response to alleged questionable behavior by several members of parliament. Back in May 2011, Silver Meikar, a former MP, claimed he had channeled funds from unknown donors into party coffers through a personal bank account. He also alleged other government officials were doing the same.
The government began a lawsuit to look into the allegations but failed to act decisively, eventually dropping charges due to insufficient evidence. This enraged the usually stoic Estonians and acted as a catalyst for prominent intellectuals to sign on to Charter 12, a document calling for greater responsibility among politicians to the public.
A petition supporting Charter 12 has so far garnered over seventeen thousand signatures from the country’s citizens, an impressive feat given the republic is less populous than the borough of Manhattan. Estonia’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, quickly backed the charter and two weeks ago hosted a forum to discuss the issues Charter 12 had raised with government officials.
During that meeting, which was live-streamed to the public and shown on national television, panelists came to the decision to solicit proposals from the public with regards to changing two areas of legislation: party creation and conduct, and electoral law. That’s where the ‘hands-on’ crowdsourcing aspect of the charter comes in.
Citizens have been asked to submit proposed changes until January 31st, 2013; independent experts will examine the submissions and write up drafts of bills using the public's suggestions. The drafts will then go back to the public to be debated, and, following that, experts will shape a final draft of proposed amendments. The president must submit the amendments to Estonia’s parliament no later than March 31st, 2013.
Given the ruling Reform Party’s low approval ratings, it’s reasonable to expect the parliament to approve the amendments, though things can certainly change between now and the vote. The charter wasn’t universally supported in Estonia, as some saw its lofty goals (without an initial plan of achieving them) as a veil to hide the signatories’ ulterior motives – perhaps forming a party of their own or fomenting unrest. Charter signatories have dismissed such accusations.