ABOUT ANTI-CORRUPTIONISTS, PRESIDENTS AND TRUST
By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
Past week was marked by the procedure for electing new Anti-Corruption Commission, and last weekend, after a long time, there was a new poll on Telma TV for possible presidential candidates, so I will refer to these two things in this column, mainly from the aspect of citizens’ trust towards them (as individuals and to the institution in which they act or represent it).
I will start from the second one – the poll. And I will begin with the fact that the poll was commissioned and presented by Telma TV, and for their needs it was conducted by the agency M-prospect. Unlike the previous two years when we participated in the joint project with Telma TV and together we conceptualized various polls, this time MCIC was neither included in any way, nor asked for opinion. Whether there should be a poll, or whose names to be found on the list. In that sense, I am not responsible for the names that appeared or did not appear on the list, and the persons concerned should ask those questions at another address. In truth, I neither participated in the selection of people for the previous poll in December, but then I was informed and I was able to influence the list, so no matter what I had not done it, I was responsible for the poll and I could be called to explain about the poll.
Certainly, nothing prevents me, or anybody else, to comment on the results of any poll (regardless of the fact whether MCIC or I has ordered it or someone else) and I have already done this on other media, so I would not repeat it in this column. Also, yesterday I was reminded of good advice, that in public discourse much more should be discussed on ideas and principles, rather than events and people, so I will apply it here too.
So let’s start – the first question is whether polls are necessary? And how many? My opinion is that there should be even more often than we have witnessed in recent months, even years. I remember that for the 2011 elections I made a comparison of nine agencies that came up with results, and last year there were rarely two or three polls for the same thing in the same period. Even for the referendum there were only four agencies that published polls (spanning even two months). By contrast, in the United States, for example, there are constantly thousands of political polls, and for example the assessment of the President’s work (Trump in this case) is done on a daily basis by at least two or three agencies (you can see them on the RealClearPolitics site). It is similar in Europe – from the Poll of Polls site about all important political polls and elections to Eurobarometer – European Commission’s official public opinion website for all relevant issues that concern them. So yes, much more polls are needed in Macedonia and more frequent public opinion polls on many topics, especially on elections and people who should be elected to the most important functions in the country.
The second question is whether someone’s name should be found on the poll lists or not and who decides on it (including whether they should be asked). In my opinion, anyone who is engaged (or has ever been engaged) with a public (especially state) function may (and should) be the subject of a public opinion review of him/her. And I consider it an honor when someone’s name is mentioned (and checked) in the context of a candidate for President of the Republic, regardless of the results of the poll (more about this in the text below). And it can be debatable whether they have to give permission for it, in terms of increased needs and privacy efforts, but as one professor told me in my student days, one who has decided to deal with a public matter (it does not have to be state function, also writing columns is part of that public sphere), must be reconciled that he/she loses his/her privacy and that people will talk/comment on him/her. I do not want people to talk about me (and it is certainly okay to comment and debate what I say and write), especially when it is bad (and who would want it) about me as a person, and the least when it is not true (as I wrote above for example). But I am aware that such things will happen and will continue to happen as much as I do not want, and I certainly cannot prevent them. Thus, I think that about any person who is mentioned in the public as a possible future president of Macedonia, the opinion of the citizens and the trust towards them should be checked.
Regarding the results themselves (not the one from the last poll but in general), again, you need to know what is asked in the poll and how to interpret the answers, that is, the results. For example, it is one thing to ask for trust in a specific person (or institution), and another is when comparing several persons (or parties for example). For real trust, one can speak only when the question is about an individual. Even then there is a difference how the question is asked. It is one thing to ask: do you trust XY?, and it is different if you ask: do you approve the work of the person XY? (the first question is more often posed in our country, and the second one is the usual question in the United States about trust in the President, Congress and/or other politicians and institutions). Therefore, one should be careful when commenting, as the result obtained on one question where there are more candidates (and only one can be chosen), neither speaks about the trust in the particular candidate, nor about his personal rating, but about the current comparison with other candidates on the particular issue. This is especially true when there are several names on the list (as it was in the last poll).
Yes, I agree that it should be more debated about more important things that polls reveal than the comparison of possible candidates (especially that some of them certainly will not take part in the presidential race, including the leaders of the largest parties that appear in this poll), which will certainly be very different when only the selected candidates for the race remain. And yes, I am glad that one of those important issues raised a discussion about the low confidence in politicians (and more widely, in institutions and parties). MCIC has been monitoring these trends for many years, and yes, it should be discussed why judiciary has been on the lowest branches of trust for years, just over 20%, and rarely exceeding 30%, and the political parties are on a similar level. Civil society organizations, including MCIC, although better (mostly above 40%), rarely cross into majority (over 50%). And why in those over 60% (and nobody has reached trust of more than 70%) is constantly the Army of the Republic of Macedonia, most often the police, as well as the churches/religious communities? Until last year there was the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office, but this year they also fell below 50%. And yes, it should be discussed why trust (and ratings) in politicians and parties are among the lowest (with another indication that we rarely measure trust in specific individuals, it is most often the rating compared to other current politicians and/or officials)!
Let me finish by commenting on the election of the new Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which has also been among the least trusted institutions in recent years. Although the process of selecting the new members was welcomed with great skepticism, especially after the adoption of the law hastily, after another “night” inter-party session of negotiation and/or bargaining, it seems that the new public method in the selection and participation of civil society organizations and the media in questioning the candidates has significantly contributed to reaching a better composition of the Commission. There were certainly some better candidates that were not elected, but it is also certain that most of the elected were among the best candidates. I hope that with this election, the trust in the Commission will grow, but of course it will be their task to justify it and increase it with their work…and yes, our (MCIC) job will be to check that trust in the following polls!
*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.