reede, jaanuar 16, 2009

knives out

If 2007 was the year of the unruly Tallinn adolescent, and 2008 was the year of the suddenly unemployed construction worker, 2009 may very well prove to be the year of the disgruntled pensioner in Estonia.

As previously mentioned, this is a year of two elections: the elections for European Parliament in June, followed by municipal elections in October.

Soon after the new year had been celebrated with caution from the Estonian President, Estonia's political parties were jockeying to draw first blood.

The scandal of the month belongs to the activities of Minister of Social Affairs Maret Maripuu from the Reform Party who has been criticized for her inability to fix an IT glitch that deprived state support to pensioners for months.

The Center Party is leading an effort to force Maripuu to step down, while the Social Democrats, who have also criticized Maripuu's performance in the past but are part of the ruling government, have taken a 'wait and see' approach. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has defended Maripuu, but said it will take some time to sort out the ministry. Perhaps he thinks that Maripuu's departure would be a trial run for his own.

This of course takes us back to the March 2007 parliamentary elections, in which Ansip's Reform Party scored a very narrow victory over Edgar Savisaar's Center Party. Reform won 31 seats in the 101-member body, while Center took 29 seats. The conservatives, IRL, won 19 seats, SDE took 10, and the Greens and agrarian People's Union took 6 seats apiece.

Reform had been in the ruling government with the Center Party since April 2005, when Ansip took over as PM. After the '07 elections it was believed among the Keskerakondlased that Ansip would flirt with the more ideologically similar IRL party, with whom it has always had a fractious relationship, but ultimately choose to partner with Kesk because it already was in the government and it would be easier to manage a two party "grand coalition" than a menage a trois of conservatives, liberals, and social democrats.

When Ansip deprived IRL leader Mart Laar of the coveted foreign ministry, the Keskid assumed that this would end the negotiations with Reform and that Ansip would come runnin' back to his old pal Savisaar. That didn't happen. Instead, Urmas Paet kept his post as FM, and Laar instead took no position in the government, deciding to play the role of party elder instead. The Center Party suddenly found itself in opposition -- and they were actually favored to win the '07 election.

Ever since that moment, the Keskid have been laying the ground for their return in the '09 election season. With most analysts predicting that economic growth will return to Estonia sometime in early 2010, the time would be ripe to seize power by September in order to take credit for the expected uptick in '10, riding that to electoral success in the 2011 parliamentary elections.

What is Keskerakond's strategy? Lay the economic crisis at the feet of IRL and Reform. It's their die-hard idelogical subservience to liberalism that has gotten Estonia in this predicament, and only Edgar Savisaar with his common sense and empathy for the common man can steer Estonia out this crisis.

Savisaar's opening salvo was a high-tech Christmas card where one could pick their name from a list and watch a paternal, pre-recorded Savisaar standing beside a bonfire in the forest say something like, "Saamuel, be a good person and take some hay to the animals, and remember to give Christmas presents to the children this year."

That was Savisaar showing his solidarity for the common man. Now comes the attack on Reform and IRL to paint them as out-of-touch liberal elitists (with an entirely different meaning from the 'limosine liberals' of American political discourse) who are too busy giving the people bread and circus of the erection and removal of monuments than to even pay the poor pensioners (most of whom live within a cat's whisker of abject poverty) on time.

In Tallinn, nearly every bus stop shows a large green poster blaming Reform and IRL for the souring of the Estonian economy. There is also a website advertised for those increasing numbers of discontented voters, www.protest2009.eu.

Politically, it is interesting that Kesk has decided not to blame SDE. Perhaps they harbor fantasies of forming a ruling center-left coalition with Finance Minister Ivari Padar's party. The only problem is that SDE has said that they would not be willing to partner with Kesk if Savisaar is the PM. And even if Kesk, SDE, the Greens, and the People's Union pool their votes, they'd still only have 51 seats in the Riigikogu -- not exactly the 60 seat majority that the current coalition has.

I can only guess is that Center intends to play hard and drive Reform's poll numbers into the gutter, delegitimizing Ansip's '07 win. It's already working. 35 percent of those interviewed in a December poll favored Center, compared to 29 percent for the ruling Reform party.

Those who ridicule the Center Party as the party of the marginalized Russophones might have a hard time explaining those numbers. Non-ethnic Estonians make up only 30 percent of the population in total, and a third of them hold foreign passports. No, there are plenty of Estonians who support Härra Savisaar's party -- among them the disgruntled pensioners who are increasingly featured on the covers of local newspapers, but also ... prepare to be shocked ... the local business community.

In the past, the business community -- a good deal of it controlled by Swedish or Finnish capital -- approved of Estonia's devotion to liberal economic policies. Having grown up under the thumb of nordic social democracy, these entrepreneurs welcomed Estonia into the fold and lobbied for its EU membership -- perhaps hoping to export Estonia's policies back into Finland or Sweden one day. These days, though, you can see them lining up behind former PM and businessman Tiit Vähi, whose critiques of the Ansip government are regularly published in the Swedish-owned business daily Äripäev.

And so it could be that an odd coalition of disgruntled pensioners and angry businessmen may eventually bring about a change of administration in Stenbock House in 2009. I am not sure how to prepare myself for a possible Savisaar administration, but I am starting to think I should brush up on my knowledge of life of another wily patrician from the center: Urho Kekkonen.

23 kommentaari:

Sérgio Meira ütles ...

Would a Savissaar victory imply more affirmation of Estonian values, a little bit of nationalism, perhaps more confrontation with Russia? (Say, like Ilves talking about the plight of Finno-Ugric peoples in the Russian Federation who 'have yet to experience freedom'?)

Andres ütles ...

Sergio, what? No, Savisaar is the one who would try to be best pals with Russia. He is nothing that you would describe as nationalist.

Also, I don't remember why didn't Ansip sack Maripuu. It was the perfect chance to satisfy the blood hunger of the nation. But he decided not to. Not a wise step IMO.

Andres ütles ...

Gah.. I don't of course UNDERSTAND why Ansip didn't sack Maripuu.

Giustino ütles ...

Savisaar would do whatever was most politically expedient. I am serious -- go read about Kekkonen. He was an agrarian nationalist who later wound up with the Lenin Peace Prize.

Some snippets, courtesy Wikipedia:

From the beginning he ruled with the assumption that the Soviet Union accepted only him.

Because of defectors like Oleg Gordievsky and the opening of the Soviet archives it is known that keeping Kekkonen in power was the main task of the Soviet Union in its relations with Finland.

**

Kekkonen extensively used his power to nominate ministers and railroaded new council compositions through the parliamentary process.

He also used (publicly and with impunity) the old boy network to bypass the council and communicate directly with high officials. Only after Kekkonen's term, councils began to remain stable throughout the entire period between elections.


I guarantee you that this guy was väike Edgar's hero.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, you could also brush up your knowledge about Kekkonen's speech in Tartu in 1964 (which he kept in fluent Estonian, btw). He was a complicated character and as hostile as I am to the abuses of liberal democracy (and I don't lightly use such phrases) I would absolutely say that he was a Finnish patriot. (And among other things the chief influence behind the collapse of Finnish Communism, that once had the voluntary support of 25% of the nation.)

Doris ütles ...

Savinukitsamees is politically part troll, part a PR-agent who dropped out of High School and part a 5-year-old who really wants his ice-cream.

On top of that he has very, let's say "interesting" ideas on how economy works and what drives revenue.

Tell me if I'm wrong though, but doesn't it seem to you that ever since Reiljan took a step back in Rahvaliit, the party seems to be less rabid in their opinions and more likable for city-dwellers. Karel Ryytli and his opinions tend to resonate quite well with the general public...

Kristopher ütles ...

My former editor would wince whenever people joked about or cast aspersions on Savisaar in print. "The readers wouldn't get it, I'm afraid," he'd say. "For Westerners, Savisaar *is* the singing revolution."

How things have changed since 1995.

Giustino ütles ...

Stockholm,

Someone could utter similar words about Savisaar 20+ years after the fact. But what was it like in the late '50s when Kekkonen was consolidating his power and breaking the opposition? And who supported Kekkonen? These are interesting questions.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, Kekkonen's national political career actually originates from the 1930's - one notable act was his attempt to ban our semi-fascist party IKL when he was the home secretary. The crucial event was in 1943 - if I recollect it correctly - when he decided that Germany will lose the war and became a leader of the peace front.

After the war he really got close to the Soviets but you have to admit that he knew how to play that dangerous game (in the end he certainly got the better of the Kremlin) - only he played it too well and for far too long. It wasn't a risk worth taking: Paasikivi showed how to do it without subverting domestic politics, but Kekkonen had to subvert domestic politics in order to be a president for life. He really did read Macchiavelli for practical instruction.

If Savisaar would be a fundamentally patriotic nationalist Estonian and only ambitiously and potentially disastrously playing the Moscow card I would understand and accept the comparison. But it seems that at least many Estonians think that he is much worse than that. What is your opinion, Giustino?

Giustino ütles ...

But it seems that at least many Estonians think that he is much worse than that. What is your opinion, Giustino?

He's not that talented. You may remember how he tried to get Rüütel reinstalled as president and had that blow up in his face.

I actually think that Keskerakond would be in power if it wasn't for Savisaar. A lot of people voted for Ansip only because they can't stand Savisaar.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Savisaar is Estonian version of Mugabe.

Kristopher ütles ...

My main comment is that the Centre Party is no stranger to winning elections (1999 and 2003 I believe), but Savisaar hasn't been prime minister since like 1992. The other parties always circle wagons. Can you address why it wouldn't be like any other time. Kesk isn't not going to get an outright majority are they?

Giustino ütles ...

The other parties always circle wagons. Can you address why it wouldn't be like any other time. Kesk isn't not going to get an outright majority are they?

I am a bit confused about that myself. I don't think Savisaar would actually enjoy being prime minister -- didn't he say that he wouldn't want to go to Brussels because he couldn't stand leaving his beloved Tallinn behind?

It would be a shrewd move to let someone else be the face of the party and run things behind the scenes. At the same time, Savisaar is the face that the party is putting forward.

At this point, we don't know under what conditions a change of power would occur, so the future is hard to predict. Did anyone expect Ansip to take over in April 2005? And that he would be the longest serving Estonian PM since 1918 (excluding Päts' six year tenure in various positions)?

Inner monologue ütles ...

Brussels power games are too deep of a water for old soviet apparachik like Savisaar. In old times Estonians who knew Russian fluently could go to Moscow with a dosen of Vana Tallinn bottles clinking in a bag and come back next week with a hangover from drinking with russkies at some datcha and the things would be done.

Not so in Burssels. People like Savisaar have no clue how to be suave in the way of westerners. They do not know the jokes, they do not have the manners, they do not understand the language ... it just won't work.

Savisaar likes to be that big fat stinking fish in a small pond. In fact, he has no choice. Either that, or nothing.

Rainer ütles ...

"Savisaar likes to be that big fat stinking fish in a small pond. In fact, he has no choice. Either that, or nothing."

Touché

Doris ütles ...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that he's unpatriotic, exactly. But he is much too hungry for power and most people are afraid of what he might do 1) to get the power and 2) when he has the power to keep it.

Note though that Kesikud have been in the ruling coalition more often than they haven't been in it. And I've got to say, they make a better opposition than a coalition because it's in Savisaar's nature to backstab everyone but at least when he's in the opposition then he's SUPPOSED to be doing that :P

Giustino ütles ...

Here's another factor -- it looks like Jüri Pihl is going to take over as leader of SDE at their March conference. What do you think?

Sharon ütles ...

Sorry, Justin, was that actually meant to be "Russophones", as in they sound like Russians, or did you mean to call them "Russophiles", as in, particularly fond of Russians?

I've seen people confuse those words before, so I want to check I've read you correctly.

Giustino ütles ...

Sorry, Justin, was that actually meant to be "Russophones", as in they sound like Russians, or did you mean to call them "Russophiles", as in, particularly fond of Russians?

Sharon, there is a mostly true perception that Savisaar's main backers are Russophones -- mostly the Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians who make up 29 percent of total residents.

You should read the Estonian Human Development Report from 2007 to understand this phenomenon. 74 percent of "non-Estonians" polled in 2007 supported the Centre Party. (13 percent supported Reform, 5 percent supported Isamaa, 4 percent SDE, and 3 percent Rahvaliit).

My point was that Savisaar's support is not only coming from this category of Russophone voters. It is simply impossible to have 35 percent public support and not have a slice of the Estonian electorate. So before some Estonians point their fingers at Moscow or Narva, they can point their fingers next door at their neighbors who support this guy.

puolimieli ütles ...

Well, you could also brush up your knowledge about Kekkonen's speech in Tartu in 1964

As far as I know, when Kekkonen gave his well-known speech in Tartu, he was acting on commands from Moscow. The background to this was that KGB officials in Finland were irked by the fact that Finnish Estophile organizations had regular contacts with anti-communist expatriate Estonian communities (in Sweden and elsewhere) rather than with communist-controlled cultural and other organs in Estonia.

As a result of Kekkonen's visit to Estonia, regular contacts between Estonian officials and Finnish Estophiles were established, and the influence of expatriate Estonians on Finland waned.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, among other things in the speech he encouraged the Estonians to remain "unique" and true to their own cultural heritage. Quite obvious message between the lines I would say, and it is said that the expressions of the official hosts were quite grim indeed (well, those that could follow his fluent Estonian).

But sure, it was a trade and he paid it by telling leading Finnish estophiles that they really shouldn't keep contact with the emigrants. Only thing was that Finland being a liberal democracy, it was not binding anyone at all - and most happily just ignored him (as he well knew they would). So I think he came better off from the bargain.

Andres ütles ...

Well, Maripuu is stepping down but she took a month to "clear up the mess she made". Can't decide whether that's nice and responsible or hypocritical.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Muravyova would be a good successor. I mean, ethno-politically. The fact that squirrels are being let to run social, culture and enviroment ministries might be the worst example of "kits kärneriks" in Estonian history.