Sunday, January 07, 2007

Estonica: Parliamentary

In the entire recent history of Estonian independence, since 1991, there has never been a government that lasted from one parliamentary election to the next. They have inevitably crumbled.

An election is now upcoming. Though held in March, it has already been the catalyst for the sort of ugly infighting and baffling stupidity that you can expect from politicians. In fact it started with the presidential selection a few months ago, a show of force between the two main camps.

A peculiarity of Small Country politics is the unorthodox divide. We do not have clearly defined Left and Right wings; we do not have any credible contenders too far from the center on either side. The general idea is set: a combination of laissez-faire economy with a fairly extensive social system. Nobody with a chance in hell of coming to power will be particularly displeased by this, so the choice of vote is one of details.

At this time, the two biggest players are the Centrist and Reform parties, with smaller ones clustered around them. I'll list them below, in order of significance:

Reform: also known as the bankers' party. The party of current prime-minister Andrus Ansip, despite having less than half of the coalition votes. Consists of business buffs; people who know how to make money. Seems to be rather effective at making money for the country and everyone in it, which gives a lot of brownie points with the voters. Such points have recently been spent on an ugly rumble concerning the statue of the Unknown Soldier, which the Reform-led government wishes to move. The statue is an eyesore because it is used as a symbol by the Russian supremacists. With no actual platform for the elections except "I'm gonna make you all rich", the PM has decided to ignore the disease and treat the symptoms, comprehensively embarassing himself in the process. Election slogan is to make Estonia one of Europe's five richest nations within 15 years; Ansip has his work cut out for him, but with 12% annual economic growth and less than 2% unemployment, people are actually starting to fancy his chances.

Centrist: the one-man party, Estonia's very own personality cult. Part of the current coalition, more MPs than Reform, but only a few ministerial seats. Led by Edgar Savisaar, the Grand Old Bastard of Estonian politics; he was in charge in '91 when the country became independent, and has wanted to be PM again ever since. Will do anything for power, which is why he's not getting the top job: all the other parties will gladly put aside their differences to keep him the fuck out. A force to be reckoned with through personal recognition - a familiar face that many vote for by default. Proportional representation means the husband & wife team of Edgar and Vilja Savisaar get enough votes between them to drag lots of objectionable but loyal creatures into the parliament (and the Tallinn city council, installing a preposterous 28-year-old mayor). Officially affiliated with Russia's pro-Putin party, gives handouts to pensioners and jobs to the boys. Takes credit for all the good things that have happened since the last election. Election slogan is a vague "rich country, good salary".

IRL: a fusion of two once-great forces now individually reduced to insignificance. The union of Isamaa (Pro Patria) and Res Publica; largest single force in the current parliament*, but still far short of the 51 votes needed to control the 101-seat chamber. Res Publica is the former PM's party, massive grassroots success in the previous round of municipal & parliamentary elections, touted itself as the "uncorruptable" party of young guns, unspoiled by insider apathy. Turned out to be equally unspoiled by competence. Pro Patria is the Estonian nationalist party; leader is Mart Laar, distinguished doubly by being both the only person in postsoviet history to hold the top job twice, and by receiving the Milton Friedman award in 2006 for a KISS approach to taxes. IRL is what passes for the right wing around here. Started off the election campaign with a slogan of "money is not happiness", to which a million cynical voices replied, "but its absense sure is misery". Their platform, unveiled today, is for the government to give every high school graduate a new laptop, and cover the interest payments on home loans for young families. Ho hum.

Social Democrats: much as you'd expect - the trade unions' party. Last anyone heard of them, they were suggesting that Tallinn's public transport be made free. Election platform is essentially "spend all the money that the Reform boffins are making". Ostensibly the clear left-wing. Pulled off a great coup earlier this year, installing Toomas Hendrik Ilves into the presidency; he's withdrawn his party affiliation, but isn't fooling anyone. Social Democrats are the Coldplay of Estonian politics: popular by being non-objectionable. In an election where choices have dwindled compared to previous occasions, and the big players all seem like the same old mess, this lot is the reluctant choice of a disgruntled electorate that can't find a particularly good reason not to vote for them.

People's Union: the farmers' party, originally. Their great coup was Arnold Rüütel, the compromise candidate in the 2001 presidency race, voted in by an electoral college of county councils. In bed with the Centrists, but corruption scandals have erased any trace of credibility. Widely expected to flop.

My best guess for the outcome is, another "anyone but Savisaar" block, with IRL and the Social Democrats setting aside their differences (whatever those may be) and rallying around Reform. Centrists and the farmers will stay in a narrow parliamentary minority, waiting for the coalition's inevitable Charlie Foxtrot. The rehash will be more interesting, though the current parliament has 11 independents (over 10%!), and if something like that happens again, these unaffiliated votes will act as the tiebreaker.

In other words, business as usual.


Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

I'd say most important thing to say about Reform in the context of the introduction you gave in your comment is that Reform has stayed in power since 1999. In Laar's, Kallas', Parts' and Ansip's governments triumvirates there was always Reform party. This is thought-generating.

antyx said...

That actually goes with what I said - Reform are capable civil servants that have a fair idea of practical matters in running the country. Politically, they get confused.

Ansip was a compromise candidate after the fall of the Parts government - even though the Centrists had more votes and the allegiance of the farmers, the government could only stand with a non-Centrist PM. Kallas still has that whole $10mln stigma, and he had been conveniently bumped upstairs anyway.

Ansip was a good mayor of Tartu (plus he and his wife supposedly drove matching BMW M3 coupes, so he had more flair than the typical Estonian politcian). As a head of government, he's less well-placed. I guess, like you'd expect from a hierarchical organization, he got promoted to his level of incompetence.


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