Monday, February 28, 2011

Elections 2011

The Estonian parliamentary elections are this Sunday (and electronic voting has been going on for the best part of a week), and I suppose I really ought to write something about them.

I've been avoiding it, for a number of reasons. For one, there doesn't seem to be very much invasion of the real world with these elections. Political street advertising is banned, and I don't watch TV*, so the only real exposure I've had is the news articles and debates. Maybe the coverage is more pervasive in Tallinn. I've gotten some paper spam in the last few days, but nowhere near as much as I remember from previous election cycles, including Europarliament and local elections.

The other reason is that there is very little intrigue in the run-up to these elections. I've said before that the incumbent Reform Party was likely to do well, thanks to the successful Euro adoption and its general reputation as the party of economic administrators at a time when the economy is the most important issue. I'd hoped that Ansip would be forced to leave, on the general principle that having the same person in charge for so long is not healthy; but I'm pretty sure I'll be losing that bet. At this stage, the biggest question about the elections on March 6th is whether Andrus Ansip's Reform Party will get 51 seats, giving them a single-party majority, or if they will simply end up with somewhere north of 40, forced to grab one of the lesser parties into a coalition.

The Center Party will almost inevitably get some parliamentary seats, but will stay in opposition; it's also likely to lose seats compared to the current election. Not only is it suffering still from the effects of Savisaar's Kremlin money scandal, but it still doesn't have anything to actually offer, other than the idea of a progressive income tax. Anger among the disenfranchised means the Centrists are not out for the count, but their platform is unacceptable to Estonian voters with actual ambition or hope.

IRL has been getting surprising amounts of support, based on the chatter I hear. It is turning into a sink for all the mainstream voters who dislike Reform for their apparent elitism and blame them for the economic troubles, but are not ready to turn to Savisaar. The problem with IRL is that its best people are not being used to good effect. I'm starting to suspect that Mart Laar is disillusioned with the party as it exists today, and the actual RL part of it - Juhan Parts, Tõnis Luukas, and the other remnants of the pre-Ansip cabinet - are disliked by pretty much everyone, including Reform themselves. (In the media hurricane that followed the Savisaar scandal, there was an interesting claim - that the original press leak came from senior IRL officials, as a way of distracting the political establishment from Reform's planned ouster of Parts. That may or may not be the case, but it's clear that Res Publica people have been annoying in their statements and behavior.) Ideologically, IRL seems to be positioning itself as the catch-all center-right party: if Reform is taking care of the economic conservative side of things, then IRL wants the rest of the generic conservative platform. There is some strategic sense behind it, as Europe is generally shifting to the right, and IRL might get support from Old Europe's Christian Democrats and other conservative forces - but the problem is that Estonia is not a natural home for conservative socialism. So IRL is combining populistic promises about education, pensions, welfare benefits etc. with US-style family values. Estonia's political landscape does not need Tõnis Lukas's homophobic outbursts.

The Social Democrats are up in the air right now, and their performance in the elections is the one thing that is both interesting and uncertain. The party's image has suffered with the meltdown of their previous leadership and getting kicked out of Ansip's cabinet, but they seem to have successfully purged the old guard. Their current leader is Sven Mikser, a defector from the Center Party (where he served as Defense Minister in the Ansip-Savisaar coalition, despite never having even served as a conscript - though the latter is not necessarily a bad thing). Mikser is relatively young, but he's an established persona, and oddly enough his change of parties actually makes him look like a man of principle (as much as applicable to a politician, anyway, particularly in a country with poorly differentiated parties). That said, the absolute worst thing that could happen to SDE right now is for the electorate to take them seriously, as an actual Social Democratic party, rather than a safe vote sink that will keep the major players in check. In the same way that Estonia needs to embrace European values more closely before it can properly process IRL's social conservatism, the country needs to build up its economic base and labor efficiency before it can afford SDE's social liberalism. The Scandinavian welfare model is something Estonia will probably end up with, but not for a few decades: we need to be able to afford it without running up massive public debt, and we need a generational change to establish the samhälle, the sense of social unity and responsibility which is the bedrock of Scandinavian society.

Unfortunately, that's more or less it. Only these four parties are guaranteed to be represented in the next Riigikogu. The Greens have blown their chance and do not appeal to anyone - even Epp Petrone, arguably Estonia's most prominent and fervent environmentalist, refused to run as a Green in the last local elections. The leadership crisis of Rahvaliit, the farmers' party, makes SDE's clustermess look as elegant, amicable and coordinated as a Tour de France lead cyclist exchange.

Personally, I ended up voting (electronically) for whoever happened to be the lead of my constituency's Reform list, much as expected. I am by no means happy with the Reform Party's performance, current state and future prospects, but unlike the others, Reform still leaves the impression that they intend to base their leadership style on the economy: if we all make money, the other problems will resolve themselves somehow. That's a flawed strategy, but on some level it appeals to my thinking in that one must solve one's own problems, not hope for external assistance; and it's also less damaging in the long run than IRL's stated program of adding massive new social spending to the budget, without any idea of where the extra money will come from. Estonia's tiny budget deficit and near-nonexistent public debt is still a Good Thing(tm), and we should not give them up. SDE suffers from the same problem, and I guess they're actually less offensive under new leadership than IRL - the same sort of welfare policies without IRL's conservative intolerance - but I neither believe nor support any of their promises.

As for the Centrists, I suppose my main objection against Savisaar and his clique is that they do not appear to act in the country's long-term best interest. However objectionable I find the coalition parties, SDE, or Strandberg's Greens, all of them seem to be acting under the assumption that they and their children and grandchildren will be living in Estonia for a long time to come, and while they use their power to their own advantage as much as they can, they still understand that building a prosperous and stable society in Estonia (at the cost of painful decisions today) is in their own best interest. What I'm seeing in Savisaar is the attitude that nothing matters more than his own personal well-being

*Really not trying to be a hipster douche here. I watch a bunch of TV shows, listen to podcasts, etc.; I consume popular culture. Broadcast television is just a really inefficient way of content delivery. I don't even have a cable subscription any more, and my DVR's been offline for months.


moevenort said...

never read so much stupidity in a single article. I would probably need some time just to dismantle the obvious lies in it. e.g. your wanna be observed trend to right winged parties in Europe. May be true for some Eastern European countries, but definately not for more socially advanced Western Europe. to give you an example: Even in the other neoliberal paradise Ireland on the contrary Social Democrats and left winged Sinn Fein party gained more seats than ever before.

And as I said to you before, Antyx, what are European values for you? I would seriously doubt that your neoliberal freak values are the values of Euope. They have never been and they will never be European values. on the contrary, god beware Europe of a political ideology like in Estonia. that simple it is.

antyx said...

Sure, spambot, I'll bite.

UK - Conservative-led government, Conservative PM, massive spending cuts.

France - Sarcozy's welfare cuts.

Your very own Germany - Social Democrats were ousted despite Schroeder introducing a program of welfare cuts that is now credited for helping Germany's economy stay competitive in the financial crisis.

Netherlands - last year's elections resulted in the VVD getting the most seats and the Prime Ministership.

Sweden - centre-right coalition and PM, and the last election even saw nationalists get seats.

Hell, the Ireland you brought up has just put a center-right party into power by close to a two-to-one lead over the second biggest party!

But, of course, reality isn't important for someone who won't even dare to speak under his own name.

moevenort said...

you are a blind freak, Antyx - btw: you know the opinion polls for the Merkel government in Germany? yea? they are devasting, the last regional elections in germany have been last Sunday in Hamburg region. Social democrats have won nearly 50% of the votes, the best result since 1982. all three left parties all together gained nearly 70% of the votes. Merkels conservatives left have of their votes, reched just slightly more than 20%. -that is the reality in my country, it is the present reality and not the situation of the 1990s when Schroeder betrayed the German people. you should learn that situations change little Antyx. btw they way little freak: how low is the voters turnout usally in Estonia? 50%? 60% - no wonder when so much people have fallen in aphaty if they have to live with freaks like you or former communist youth party asslicker Ansip in one country.

moevenort said...

btw: how perveted your childhood socialisation has been that you have become such a ideological blinded, egoistic and thumb little freak? may be a left-winged girl has given you a knock-back when you have been a fat little school- boy? ;)

antyx said...

Tell me, spambot, what part of Germany are you from?

moevenort said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
antyx said...

Is that what happened to you, spambot? Is that why you are angry? Did you fall in love with a girl who rejected you because Merkel cut down your unemployment benefits and you couldn't afford to buy her flowers?

moevenort said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moevenort said...

no, I contrast to you I earn quite sufficant money AND I am in favour of a solidaric society that cares for the people who do not have the same luck to enjoy mky advantages. you know, people here condem egoist freaks like you. we think people like you arnt able to show any social behaviour, people like you are poison for every society. thats how it is, fatty

antyx said...

Ah, I see. Surrounded by the remnants of the DDR, growing up with the promise of the good life in reunited Germany. And when that didn't happen, when you got through school and college, and it turned out that you had no useful skills, and nobody was going to give you a high-paying job, and unemployment benefits weren't enough to hang around and play videogames all day, you decided it was all that bitch Merkel's fault... is that what happened?

Who hurt you, moevenort? Who hurt you?

antyx said...

What do you earn? What is your job?

moevenort said...

well, Antyx you have a shitty BA degree from a small town university while I am holding a PhD from a well-regarded german university and I am totally glad to live in re-united Germany with its life quality and among my fellow East German compatriots - so please, hobby-psychologist, you have no idea of my country and its people. you are a small town freak, swomething to laugh about, a curiosity like animals in the zoo. thats what you are, nothing more.

antyx said...

Ah, a PhD. So you're not actually contributing to society. You've spent all of your adult life in universities, getting money from the government.

Which university? I thought you studied under Rainer Kattel in Tallinn? And what area is your PhD in? What was the topic of your thesis? Have you done any useful science, developed new methods of production? Improved industrial efficiency? Is the product of your research used by Siemens or Volkswagen?

moevenort said...

btw: I do not want to destroy your little neoliberal dreamworld, but you know what: even the people who are unemployed here in germany have more money and a higher life quality than full time employed average people in Estonia. but for a scientist like me working on European issues it is always a pleasure to observe people like you in your small zoo;)

moevenort said...

antyx, fatty - do something for your small scale education instead of asking stupid questions

antyx said...

Ah. "European issues". A PhD in political sciences? But not a politician yourself, just studying the actions of other politicians?

You must be proud of your published works. Can I have a list of them? I'd like to read them.

moevenort said...

well, antyx I would doubt that you are able to read at all- too much ideologic air in your brain for such complicated issues like thinking or reading I would guess.

Wait, wut? said...

Far be it me to keep you from feeding the German trolls, AnTyx. It's amazing how many of them cover up a bad case of short man complex with bombast. Wait until moevenort finally figures out he's working for unemployed Greeks.
A fair summary of the Estonian political landscape. I would add that Isamaaliit has become a rump party; that it serves Res Publica's greater good to have some warhorses of the signing revolution as front men (and women). But Isamaaliit might as well not exist.
However, what the two parties have discovered is 'retail politics'. You cannot go anywhere in Tallinn without bumping into their candidates in person. I don't know if that is true in Tartu, but its certainly true here, which is why I expect Reform to be lower than the 50-range.
The only other quibble is referring to Epp Petrone as 'one of the most prominent environmentalists' in Estonia, which raised my eyebrow. I am sure she is nice, and maybe enjoys some celebrity in Supilinn. But from Tallinn, other than her books, her only impression is that she is a granola girl. But hey, maybe a political platform of health food shops and cheap travel packages might appeal.

moevenort said...

just to get the arogant little countryside Estonians back to reality: According to Eurostat statistics in 2010 Estonia reached about 68% of the average European Union Income level. That was less than in the Czech Republic, Slowenia or Slovakia. At the same time Greece reached despite the crisis 94% ot the average European income level. So all Estonian arrogance towards the honorable people of greece ( who by the way in contrast to Estonia have a democratic tradition) is obviously not covered by any reality. And btw: concerning income levels: Germany reached 116%, East Germany about 90% of the average level. so obviously also East Germany has used the 20 years following the fall of Communism much more efficient than Estonia at least;)

antyx said...

Granola girl is enough to be a prominent environmentalist in this country, methinks. :) She has name recognition, that counts for a lot. Actually I tried to think of another environmentalist when I wrote that paragraph, couldn't come up with any off the top of my head.

I've said before that I voted for Tunne Kelam in the last municipal elections because there didn't seem to be much between the parties, but I could at least respect his willingness to stand at the end of the arch bridge at 8am in the winter, handing out (bad) coffee to passersby. Retail politics may be a PR stunt, but at least it has the redeeming quality of putting politicians within egg-throwing distance of the electorate.

antyx said...

Moevenort, did you pay for that 90% living standard? Or did neoliberal (or was it neoconservative, you keep changing it) Merkel-voting West German capitalists?

moevenort said...

small town boy, you know what: I was definately much harder working in my life than you have ever done. Additionally, in contrast to braindead little Estonian freaks like you, I have a lot of respect for the people in Greece. Because they have a vivid and engaged society, able to use their brains and to think. the pure contrast to Estonia where you can compare to ability to think of people like you with the silence of a graveyard.

Unknown said...

Estonia did not own the same national economy like Poland and Hungary in soviet times. That makes it more comparable with Ukraine or Latvia than others.

antyx said...

Soonjung - you're right, and the point should be extended: it's not only the fact that the Warsaw Pact countries had more economic freedom and more efficient workforces than even the least restricted of Soviet Union republics, it's also that they have better natural prerequisites for economic growth: proximity to markets, local resources (Czechoslovakia was one of Europe's industrial greats before WWII), higher absolute population numbers, and a better climate.

The economic crisis has driven home the lesson in Estonia that industry is the bedrock of economic stability, that's why everyone is obsessed with export numbers these days, but there's still a limited amount we can do because of our geographic position. We're taking manufacturing jobs from Finland and Sweden, not Germany, and we don't have the labour supply that would make it worthwhile for industrial heavyweights to build large factories here, like they did in PO/CZ/SK/SN.

The real problem is that we're losing the edge in IT, government agencies are becoming more complacent. There's still enough IT demand in Estonia to sweep up all the remotely qualified labour that's available, but we're losing the prerequisites for trendsetting, and this needs to be addressed.

Giustino said...

Epp said that she was approached to run by the Greens, but decided against it, as she is a writer, not a politician. I guess they figured they could score some votes off her 'granola girl' persona, but she decided not to go along. That is an annoying trend in Estonian politics: the "celebrity" candidate who never goes to the Riigikogu.

The Greens have suffered from a fundamental split in the party elite. Some of them are genuine Greens, of similar mindset to kindred parties in Northern Europe. But others went after the same voters as Reform and IRL. Because of this, an acquaintance of mine in SDE referred to the Greens in 2007 as the "new Res Publica." I think he was right.

I like your analysis, Flasher T, but I think the election will be much closer. Center did do well in municipal elections and in European parliamentary elections, and they weren't polling much differently then. I am not debating the outcome. I think the next Riigikogu will have more or less the same attributes as the current one.

As for you, here I refer to the insulting German, you are dreaming if you imagine some new world order led by the German left. Their heads are in the sand, and it's a pity, because the neoliberals should be tempered by adult voices who don't believe the 'invisible hand' will take care of everything.

Unfortunately, what do we get? More promises of social programs? Ad nauseum grandstanding on touchyfeely multiculturalism (so-and-so is a racist and we're not, etc.)? It's so boring. It's like it's 1970 forever in their small corner of the universe.

The management/union relationship that drove social democratic politics for most of the post-war years has been challenged by the IT-driven economy. Look at Flasher. He works for an Israeli firm that sells software. Why the hell would he vote for a left-wing party?

But in Estonia, I wouldn't mind to see more challenges from the left. Answer me this: why is dental care for adults not covered by the state-run health program? Is it just too 'cosmetic' or too expensive? Seriously? If your foot breaks, the government will pay, but if your tooth breaks? This policy makes no sense. Sadly, dental hygiene has not topped the list of issues in this election cycle. ;)

antyx said...

I've found that dental coverage is enough for basic care, actually - I get my teeth done at the University's dental clinic, which offers both satisfactory quality (certainly the practicing professors there are better than what I've experienced on a commercial basis at Medicum) and hilariously low prices. But yes, the state coverage is both meager and difficult to process. I think it's because there are generally quite few centralized dental clinics that Haigekassa can bargain with, like they can with large county hospitals.

Doris said...

the thing that keeps me from voting for IRL is that they are, more than any other Estonian party, against all things Russian. I like their ideas on education in general but I strongly dislike the idea of forcing so fast conversion to Estonian-language teaching in Russian schools. Sure, I agree that it needs to be done eventually but I think that now is too early and it's being done in very bad manner. Likewise when it comes to Russia-related politics - while I seriously distrust Savisaar and his antics, IRL's constant contrariness isn't helping things at all.

This IRL-style discrimination is about on the same level of bad as Savisaar's pretty little things (even though they're not actually that pretty) that get promoted in the party and go to political conferences and run city office branches... yuck. Just.... yuck.

antyx said...

Actually, in terms of Russian school conversion, I think now is too late. Remember: everyone in school today has been born in independent Estonia.

It was politically and logistically impossible to switch to all-Estonian schools in the early 90s, but in the long term it would have been a lot less painful than the dragged-out, piecemeal conversion we've got now. And I'm saying that as someone who went to a Russian school. In Lasnamäe.

Mind you, only today a fellow blogger mentioned seeing a talk show on local TV that discussed the school conversion; and as it turned out, the most vociferous defenders of Russian-language education had actually placed their children into Estonian schools. ;) Here's the link, though it's in Russian:

Mingus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doris said...

My deskmate in High School was the same as you :) I still think though that while it should be encouraged that young Russians in Estonia learn good Estonian, it should not be forced on them quite so harshly, it intensifies unnecessary nationalistic tensions. Just because they did it to us, does not mean we should do it to them. We're not Israel for crying out loud.

Giustino said...

And in the end, Reform got 33 seats, Centre 26 seats, IRL 23 seats, and SDE 19 seats.

LS said...

Greetings from Finland!

I'm glad to hear that Reform Party is still the biggest one. In Finland all 8 parliamentary parties are social democratic. Not one is classical liberal. Finland has major budget deficits and public debt. High taxes, moderate-high regulations and wealth re-distribution. It's a downward spiral. At this rate future looks grim and I'm planning to move out.

How about Estonia? In Heritage's 2011 Index of Economic Freedom Estonia is 14th most free country (75.2/100 points). Minimal budget deficits and public debt. Low taxes, somewhat low regulations and wealth re-distribution. In the future I believe many Finnish entrepreneurs will move to Estonia as Finland will become more and more socialistic. I personally have high sympathy and empathy for you Estonians and I believe you have bright future.


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