Estonian society is expecting changes from the Reform Party, including a return to liberal values and losing the attitude that the party is infallible and alone fit to govern the state. Should Saturday’s general assembly produce a result reflecting steps in this direction, this year in politics can be counted as off to a good start, Center Party board member Raimond Kaljulaid writes in an opinion piece published by daily Õhtuleht.
The fact that the Reform Party’s general assembly has been organized on such short notice, leaving candidates for chairman of the party just one month to campaign — especially as this month also included the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Eve and Day — has been considered a sign by many that the party’s backroom is interested in tipping the elections in Kristen Michal’s favor.
This in turn leaves the impression that Michal and his followers, who have thus far kept the party under control, are not as confident anymore that they can keep control of the party’s internal processes, as if his party mates’ support were strong, such a blitzkrieg for the party’s top spot wouldn’t be necessary. "Thus discontent is great among Reform Party members and if Michal wins, the win will inevitably have a dishonest taste to it which will accompany the new chairman just like his prior financing scandals," Kaljulaid wrote.
It would be easy to say that the Reform Party’s internal elections were purely their own internal affair, however the Center Party board member noted that as Reform is one of Estonia’s largest political parties with a significant representation in the Riigikogu, the party’s choice for its new leader would inevitably affect Estonian politics on a wider scale, and that a strong democracy required not only effective state leadership but also an active opposition as well.
Condemn corruption, patch up internal rift, stop excluding entire parties
Society clearly expects changes made on the state government level to reach the Reform Party as well, Kaljulaid found, and for many, including their competitors, this means that a return to liberal values from which the party had distanced itself during former chairman Andrus Ansip’s term is important.
Kaljulaid found that in order to achieve this, the Reform Party would first and foremost have to lose their "We are the state" attitude. "Leading Reformers have been convinced for years that only their party knows how to and is capable of leading the state," he claimed, noting that this conviction ultimately led to their ending up alone.
Likewise important is the party providing a clear assessment and condemnation of corruption chiefly within the state-owned Port of Tallinn. Kaljulaid noted that the ongoing ferry saga, in which all four ferries ordered by Port of Tallinn subsidiary TS Laevad are months behind schedule in completion and entering into operation between the mainland and major Western Estonian islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, could also be indirectly blamed on Reform leadership.
"It was under the direction of figures favored by the Reform Party that self-interest was prioritized and the interests of those living on the islands went unprotected," Kaljulaid said, noting that the public had a hard time believing that corruption-related events within the Port of Tallinn had occurred without the knowledge and approval of the then-prime minister’s party.
Yet another challenge for the party will be to patch up its internal rift, which in the Center Party member’s opinion was precisely what gave a strong impetus to major changes in the ruling coalition, including the formerly opposition Center Party replacing Reform outright.
Finally, Reform must put an end to its predisposition toward opposition and exclusion. Kaljulaid pointed out that former Reform chairman Andrus Ansip had ruled out cooperation with the Center party, which at the time represented one fourth of the Estonian population, and the next chairman likewise ruled out cooperation with the new Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), which meant that Reform considered an entire third of the Riigikogu in total unsuitable.
This isn’t a feasible option, however. "Everyone needs to be spoken with; elsewhere in Europe, the exclusion of populist political powers has led to nothing but a rise in their parties’ popularity and influence," Kaljulaid pointed out.
Reform in the opposition
As the opposition currently consists of Reform, EKRE and the Free Party, it is Reform’s responsibility as the largest party to lead cooperation within the opposition. Dividing parties up as pro-Estonian and less pro-Estonian would be unreasonable, as every parliamentary party represents Estonia and the people thereof.
"How someone sees Estonia’s interests and what different societal groups’ expectations are can and should be argued over, however calling a party who has received a mandate from the people the henchman of a foreign power is neither honest nor ethical — even less so when done on the international level, damaging the Estonian state’s image," commented Kaljulaid.
Estonian society is expecting a number of changes from the Reform Party. Should Saturday’s general assembly produce a result reflecting steps in this direction, he found, this year in politics could be counted as off to a good start.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla