Friday, May 11, 2007

Of Leaders Past and Future, Part II

The Tallinn riots and subsequent settling of the population of Estonia into distinct camps has seen the activity of two major political figures: the PM, Ansip, and the Tallinn mayor, Savisaar.

Savisaar is a political corpse: he gambled on the Russian vote and couldn't bring himself to cut his losses on April 27th, so now his credibility among the majority is lost forever. The Centrist Party never had a cohesive platform or ideology, it ran on the strength of Savisaar's personal charisma, the voters assured the Edgar himself is getting things done for their benefit. But now Savisaar is seen not just as a self-serving, nepotistic bastard, but as a collaborator, an agent of influence for the Kremlin. He's done in Estonian politics. The only hope for the Centrists is to disavow Savisaar and establish themselves as the mainstream left-wing force in the country.

Ansip has shown himself to be exactly what people suspected him to be before the elections: a competent manager, but a shite politician. Currently he is riding the wave of support, but it won't last; as soon as criticism of Ansip will cease to stink of bending to Moscow's will, the classic adage about an Estonian's favourite food being another Estonian will come into play. Ansip does not have the same stance within the Reform Party as Savisaar in his own sandbox, and since Reform are likely to want to retain their image of economy specialists (they can't out-patriot Isamaa, after all), Ansip will be pulled. He may not quite be done in politics - if Juhan Parts managed to sneak back into government, I imagine further reshuffles might see Ansip in the Finance Ministry or similar - but he's not going to be the first Estonian PM to serve a full term.

Which leaves Mart Laar. If the current government will crumble 2,5 years after the elections, as is the custom, the makeup of the parliament will make things very interesting indeed. For the Centrists to get into the coalition, they'd have to pull a move worthy of a contortionist on acid. Just being a major force in parliament isn't nearly enough, as Isamaa and Res Publica showed before the last general vote. By the same token, a coalition with a parliamentary majority can be lead by a minority PM: Ansip himself rose to the top job while his party had less seats than their coalition partner.

At the same time, Laar is the man to put the mess right. His anti-Russian credentials are unquestionable. He's an infinitely better statesman than Ansip. Between his own personal relationships with world leaders and Ilves's, Estonian foreign policy would thrive. When Ansip refused to give him the Foreign Minister post, Laar showed genius insight by stepping aside; throughout the riots and subsequent fallout in Estonian-Russian elections, he had no formal affiliation with the ruling government; he didn't even go "I told you so!" much.

Laar has the capacity and the credit to restore the country's relations with Russia - especially a post-Putin Russia, if it doesn't go entirely totalitarian - and we can hope that he has the insight to do it, too.

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An interesting question is how exactly he could pull it off. A coalition reshuffle is possible, but I don't think Reform will give up the top job that easily. However, if the young guns in the Centrist party really do dethrone Edgar, a deal is not entirely implausible. Between them the Centrists and IRL have only 48 votes, but the farmers still have their 6 seats, and a traditional loyalty to Team Savisaar. A Laar-led coalition could certainly entice the Social Democrats, and the Greens appear to still have a standing offer of joining anyone who makes Marek Strandberg the Environmental Minister. It would be very typical of Estonian politics in general for the party that won the parliamentary elections to end up in opposition four years down the line.

6 comments:

Giustino said...

Aren't Laar and Ilves really the architects of modern Estonia?

Laar sort of created the script -- emerging from 50 years of oppression, integrating with Western institutions, creating a strong national identity.

Ilves provided the goal -- to be another boring Nordic country -- which means being rich, wired, influential, and secure.

Those seem to be the current memes in Estonian society. Perhaps these two gents just borrowed them from others, but they are certainly successful mouthpieces.

Flasher T said...

Laar is definitely an architect of modern Estonia, since he's the one who thought up the tax scheme which has made the country what it is.

Ilves, I think, is not so much an architect as a product of modern Estonia (in terms of Ilves as a political phenomenon). He's an outsider, not marred by the ghost of Communist Party membership as pretty much everyone else in Estonian politics is, and at the same time he's a symbol of Estonian state continuity abroad during the Soviet occupation.

Having a president that was born in Sweden and raised in the US is a good argument against charges of xenophobia. ;)

timbu said...

Guys, you're forgetting Lennart Meri...

Flasher T said...

Isn't he, you know - dead? :P

lounamaa said...

I think it is too soon to declare Savisaar a political corpse and bury him just yet.

Don't underestimate his electorate's willingness to believe in the Truth According to Edgar - so far they have gobbled up his justifications for every scandal he has been part of.

He will blame Ansip for ordinary Estonians losing their sense of security, he will blame Ansip for economic setbacks that occur due to Russian trade boycotts and he will blame Ansip for botching our integration process. Also, he will say that his words and actions during the April 26 riots were misinterpreted maliciously by the man who caused the riots, Ansip.

This is the set of truths that his followers will have to ingest by the next elections in order for Savisaar to be able to maintain his control over Keskerakond's Duchy of Tallinn and much of the rest of Estonia. And since Estonian voters have exhibited an amazing capacity to forget any uncomfortable details that do not fit their worldview in the past, I believe they will do so in the future.

Giustino said...

This is the set of truths that his followers will have to ingest by the next elections in order for Savisaar to be able to maintain his control over Keskerakond's Duchy of Tallinn and much of the rest of Estonia. And since Estonian voters have exhibited an amazing capacity to forget any uncomfortable details that do not fit their worldview in the past, I believe they will do so in the future.

But Reform is Kesk's only reliable partner. Who else could they partner with at the national level?

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