Opinion digest: Pevkur can become chairman of Reform only if able to mobilize less active party members ({{commentsTotal}})

Hannes Rumm and Anvar Samost.
Hannes Rumm and Anvar Samost. Source: (ERR)

Michal had the current inner circle of the party on his side. Pevkur needed to mobilize party members that were much less active in order to win, political commentators Hannes Rumm and Anvar Samost said on Sunday. In addition, he couldn’t bring up the pary’s 2012 financing scandal and Michal’s involvement in it, as it might cost him additional support.

Editor-in-chief of ERR’s online news, Anvar Samost, and former Social Democratic MP and journalist Hannes Rumm discussed the Reform Party’s upcoming internal elections on their political radio talk show on Sunday.

The two candidates, former minister of the interior Hanno Pevkur and former minister of economic affairs and infrastructure Kristen Michal, represent two different directions the party may take in the future. While Michal is seen as the candidate of the current party elite, and not too many changes are expected if he takes over, Pevkur has positioned himself as the change candidate, promising to introduce a more open leadership style, and to open up the party’s decision making processes to a wider circle than the current small group that runs the party.

Most active party members on Michal's side

In Samost’s assessment, the outcome of the election heavily depends on the voting activity of the different party members. At over 13,000 members, Reform has grown substantially since it was founded in the 1990s, yet the circle of active members remains relatively small. Samost thinks that Pevkur can only hope to get elected if he manages to mobilize a lot of party members that don’t typically participate very actively.

Michal, on the other hand, could count on the support of the party’s active members. Here, Samost sees Michal decisively in the lead, expecting his chances to be better than 70:30. Whatever the party’s headquarters had under control, Michal was solidly in charge of, Samost opined.

Rumm sees the party divided into two wings again, and pointed out that the exchange between the two candidates had become surprisingly sharp. “Pevkur’s wing is blaming Kristen Michal for things having become too angry, and damaging to the reputation [of the party], while Michal’s wing is saying that dirty laundry like this should not have been washed in public,” Rumm said, adding that both sides were convinced the other was losing support because of it.

Elections actually democratic, difficult to control for party headquarters

As the only condition for a party member to participate in the internal elections was that they had paid their annual contribution, the party headquarters would have a much harder time controlling these elections, Rumm said. Here it all was a matter of the eventual turnout. They would try to rally support for the party’s current line, and that would mean supporting Kristen Michal.

Pevkur needed to bring on his side those Reform Party members who might be convinced of Michal’s aptitude as a political technologist, but who also assumed that he still had one or the other skeleton in the closet, as well as all those who would prefer a more open and inclusive style of leadership to the current centralized and more authoritarian one.

As Sunday was the last day party members could nominate candidates, Samost said that things also depended on whether or not there would be other candidates. Every additional candidate could cost both Michal and Pevkur votes.

Michal's role in 'Silvergate' party financing scandal difficult to bring up for Pevkur

Pevkur was in a difficult position, as he couldn’t attack Michal for his involvement in the party’s financing scandal of 2012.

Triggered by former Reform Party MP Silver Meikar, it became public that several party members had donated funds to the party that they had received cash from senior party officials. According to Meikar, Michal was a central operative in this donation laundering scheme. Several party members came forward in 2012 to confirm Meikar’s accusations, but the prosecutor eventually ended the investigation for lack of evidence.

All through the scandal, then-prime minister Andrus Ansip as well as the rest of the party’s leadership categorically denied the accusations. If at all, this was a problem with individual members. Michal, then minister of justice, eventually resigned because of the accusations, and because his staying on would have meant a conflict of interest.

In Samost’s assessment, Pevkur could not bring up the scandal, as it involved plenty of the currently most influential people in the party. A large part of the Reform Party’s inner circle had figured very prominently in the prosecutor’s reports, which meant that bringing up the scandal could lead to Pevkur actually losing support, as those people may see themselves in danger.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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