Last week arrived this month's issue of Eesti Naine -- a popular woman's magazine, which discussed the past year in the life of the Minister of Culture, Laine Jänes.
Jänes, 43, is the former mayor of Tartu, like current Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was before her. She is also a member of Reformierakond -- the most popular party in Estonia -- which has its base in Tartu City Administration.
For several reasons, I suspect that when a successor is chosen for Härra Ansip, who in a few weeks will become Estonia's longest serving prime minister ever, and I mean since 1918 -- Jänes might be the candidate at the top of the ticket.
One factor is that Reformierakond has managed to build itself into a generic, mainstream political party. What people need to understand about Estonian politics is that many local officials are not ideologues, they are career public servants. They don't choose to run on the IRL slate because they have read all of Mart Laar's books, they do so because IRL is the feel-good, patriotic party, and most Estonians like to feel good and be patriotic and say, "Elagu Eesti" (long live Estonia) every Feb. 24. It also helps if their party helps get them elected.
But Estonians like money, and Reformierakond is the "money" party. Whereas IRL's platform could be described as "patriotism plus wealth", Reform's platform is more like "wealth plus patriotism."
It's a winning combination that draws in huge swaths of the electorate. Compare that to the more narrow focus of other parties like the Greens, who are basically for the environmentalists, or the Social Democrats, who are for the unions. There's a reason why Reform has so many seats in the Riigikogu -- people who value the environment and teachers' unions want to be wealthy as well.
But that's not the only factor that would help Laine Jänes. Let's not forget that she is also an eesti naine (Estonian woman). Estonian women make up a disproportionate amount (54 percent) of Estonian voters. Interviews with the women's press helps to build her image. They might like her politics, but they also will appreciate that she is a mother of two and that she is attractive.
Femininity could make a difference for a voter forced to choose between Jänes and Edgar Savisaar or Mart Laar. And even if you don't get to vote for Jänes in your district, some Estonians vote for the prime ministerial candidate anyway. I am sure most voters who cast their votes for the Green Party last March felt they were voting for Marek Strandberg, rather than that other guy on the list.
Another factor is this. Jänes may have the quintessential Estonian surname, but her mother is Russian, and she was born in Moscow. Integration is an important social issue, and having a prime minister who is personally part of both communities could give her some extra authority in resolving these issues, or at least discussing them domestically.
Your average Estonian's personal life does not revolve around Russia -- Russia doesn't pass the hapukapsad at Christmas time, Russia isn't in your car when you are driving through Põlvamaa listening to Radio Elmer, Russia isn't in your sauna, whipping you with birch branches, et cetera. Still, Russia is important to Estonian voters, and they would like to have a prime minister that can keep Russia at arms distance but in a non-threatening way.
Finally, Jänes' name means 'rabbit' and President Ilves' name means 'lynx'. This could lend itself to all kinds of terrifying headlines. It's just a hypothesis that Jänes could be in the running for the prime minister's seat in the next election. It's also possible that, like any person in Estonia, there are dozens of people that passionately hate her and will stick out their leg for her to trip over it given the right opportunity.
[Update] I screwed up Reformierakond's slogan from the last election and so this post has been amended. But the concept, that they are a party that represents liberalism and thus wealth in Estonian politics stands. It was Ansip who called Steve Forbes a genius, not I.