The Future of Local Democracy: Has the Call for Citizen Participation Reached the City Councilors? the Case Study of Turku in Finland.
Despite the good reputation of democratic state, Finland´s trend of descending voter turnouts is faster than in other Nordic countries and Finnish voter activity is within the lowest third among the world´s established democracies. Public trust in politics has hit rock bottom and prior research has noted clear distinction between citizens´ and decision-makers´ opinions on citizen participation. It seems that demands for local referendums have not been taken seriously and implementations of new procedures of citizen participation are proceeding in Finnish municipalities rather slowly. Coincidently, local democracy has been challenged by the major changes in municipal operating environments such as market-demanding provision of services and new management styles. These trends have challenged democracy and driven future participation into discussion in substantially new aspect. Furthermore, recent academic discussion has emphasized the participatory character of democracy. This tendency has strengthened the interest for deliberative democracy theories and has manifested in expressions like “new democracy” and “participatory turn”.
This research attempts to shed light on the current discussion focused on the “participatory turn” and the future of local democracy from the perspective of decision-makers. It is based on two surveys, which were conducted in the city of Turku in 2005 and 2013. In addition the research data contains the recent interviews of city councilors. The survey results indicate rather clear polarization in councilors´ attitudes towards citizen participation. In these results general positive attitude towards participatory democracy is indicated simultaneously with the increasing amount of supporters for minimalist democracy. In my presentation I evaluate the city councilors´ outlook on democracy and citizen participation by gender, age and political party.