Former Reform secretary-general criticizes Kallas' leadership

Martin Kukk.
Martin Kukk. Source: ERR

Former Reform Party secretary-general Martin Kukk said Reform party voters' expectations to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas were greater than current results. The party's ratings drop is also caused by the actions of coalition partner Center Party's chairman Jüri Ratas.

"The Reform voter is used to the party knowing exactly what the goals are and what must be done to achieve them. The expectation for leadership is a clear line and results. Different sociological studies show that about a third of former Reform voters sense a 'Houston, we have a problem' situation, to borrow from the Apollo 13 film in 1995," Kukk told ERR on Friday.

The former party secretary-general said voters have expected the party to achieve more than it currently has. In addition to the general dissatisfaction over coronavirus crisis management, potential voters also do not see the government as a team.

"Part of it is because of [Center Party chairman] Jüri Ratas, who is trying to throw spokes in the government's wheel and who seems interested in making this government seem worse than the previous one with EKRE. If Ratas is the decision-maker for Center, he must be put in government. If he does not want to do so, the government should consist of people who want to govern and take responsibility," Kukk said.

ERR asked Kukk for comments about former prime minister Andrus Ansip's criticisms of current premier Kaja Kallas, in which Ansip likened her behavior to a to-the-manor-born lady of leisure ('Mõisapreili' in Estonan) who thought the entire political world revolves around them. Ansip also said the government has not handled the coronavirus crisis well and that Kallas has presented herself as irreplaceable.

"Perhaps the tone of the message should have been more positive, but Andrus [Ansip] is factually correct. To illustrate the situation - the Republic of Estonia has not been able to find a director for the Health Board for almost six months. Could you imagine if the Internal Security Service was without a leader for the Bronze Night riots?" Kukk said.

Reform does not need a new leader, however, Kukk said. "Reform has a leader and I believe she is doing her best to improve the situation. Party members and voters have given [Kallas] a mandate, which also means taking responsibility for the Riigikogu elections in 2023. I am still hopeful and no party member expects less from the party chair than a election victory," the former party secretary-general noted.

Kukk said the Riigikogu elections will be critical for Kallas to continue as party chairwoman. "If the results of the 2023 Riigikogu elections are worse than voters expect, it would be obvious in the private sector to announce a contest for the position of chairman, this would likely mean electing a new party chair."

Responding to a question about how Reform should react to problems stemming from price inflation, Kukk said the government lacks much leverage in influencing price increases in a market economy.

"But it is possible to not send people behind the doors of their local town hall to ask for subsistence benefits, many can find that humiliating," Kukk said." The positive thing is is that the €100+ million electricity price compensation package has been approved and will hopefully be implemented without any obstacles. Undoubtedly, the state would have more theoretical options: reduction of electricity excise duty and renewable energy charges."

As of December 1, Reform's support rating has dropped to 20.7 percent after having spent most of the year above the 30 percent threshold. A recent prime ministerial approval rating had Kaja Kallas polling at her lowest rating since the EPL survey began in early 2018. In other words, she currently rates lower as prime minister than she did at any time in opposition, where the support was only for her as notional head of government.

Kukk was Reform Party's Secretary-General from 2011 to 2015, he joined the Riigikogu in 2015 and became Reform's parliamentary group deputy chair. In 2016, Martin Kukk announced that he would leave parliament and move on to the private sector.

Kukk ran in the local government elections this fall and gained 320 votes in Tallinn's Kristiine district. He joined the Tallinn city council.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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