The Reform Party was given a surprise birthday party today during the Tartu city government's press conference, where activists entered to present Mayor Urmas Kruuse a gift to mark 18 years since the birth of the ruling party.
In the latest in a string of relatively minor demonstrations, the activists, who have organized under the slogan "An end to deceitful politics,“ are holding a protest at Tartu's Town Hall Square today at 17:30, and another in Tallinn on Saturday, reported Postimees.
A declaration by the activists says: "The Reform Party turns 18 years old on November 13. Usually this is the age of a rite of passage. We find that the Reform Party has yet to pass its test in the sense of democracy, although it has tried to pass it for some time now. We cannot accept that the ruling party of Estonia is not trustworthy in the most elementary sense.“
The coming of age passes at a time that a Postimees commentator today called one of the biggest crises of the party's history, even drawing a comparison to a controversy involving party co-founder Siim Kallas, now a European Commissioner, that is remembered as the "10 million dollar“ scandal (Kallas was central bank governor at a time when the Bank of Estonia underwrote a loan that later proved bad; he was never implicated).
Despite being cleared of charges last month in a criminal investigation into political funding practices, allowing the minister of justice to keep his post, criticism of the Reform Party has not died down. Pundits have been on the offensive in the news media and news stories that previously would have received little attention now carry an undertone, according to the Postimees commentator.
The party line has held firm on its contention of innocence, brushing off activists as the minority, or even radicals, and government leaders have been criticized for being overly aggressive in their defenses. The party has shown some confusion within its own ranks too, as was seen recently in attacks against a fellow party member's draft code of ethics for Parliament. Some influential members have even left the party, the most recent one being veteran diplomat, minister and public intellectual Jaak Jõerüüt. It might be argued that this is not of itself extraordinary - it's just politics. But analysts have repeatedly said there is a broader lack of confidence in Estonian political culture.
The Reform Party has brushed off criticism as a media bubble, pointing to steady results in popularity polls, which most recently showed it holding a healthy 32 percent in October. However, a pollster for Emor, Aivar Voog, said the situation will for the first time reflect more significantly in the polls when a new set of results is published on Friday.
"In the summer, criticism toward the Reform Party was more visible in the opinion pages of newspaper or in some niche publications, but in the last month it has been universal,“ Voog said.