SDE leader: Losing former Tartu deputy mayor won't harm electoral chances

Lauri Läänemets.
Lauri Läänemets. Source: Jürgen Randma/Government Office

Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Lauri Läänemets said that the departure of a former Tartu deputy mayor for Eesti 200 will not harm its electoral performance on March 5, adding that the party aims to capture 15 seats at the election, in an interview with ERR which follows.

Has the party made all its basic preparations for the Riigikogu elections? Electoral lists and the manifesto have received their final touches?

Yes, we have done all the important things, almost all the procedures. We still have a general meeting left, which will confirm everything finally. The lists are in place, the candidates know more-or-less what position on the list they are in, and where. The messages have been agreed on. The campaign is already underway in many regions. In this sense, we are ready for the elections.

The party's election slogan is also, it is rumored, to be announced at the general meeting this Saturday. But hasn't it already been heard in some places, that wages must rise?

In reality, our one underlying message is that if prices have gone up, in order to improve people's lives, wages have to go up, and pensions have to go up as well. The state must take bigger steps here, on an exceptional basis. But yes, we have been talking about a strong Estonia as well as about the fact that wages must rise. These are some of the important keywords, but this slogan  will only be approved at the general meeting.

Is it a third option? Not 'A Strong Estonia' and not 'Wages Must Rise'?*

It's not these, yes. Up to today, we have used our messages. But it will take the form of a slogan .

Can you say what it is?

Comms will state it ahead of this general meeting. I'm not going to preempt them.

Is your electoral manifesto finally ready?

We have the election program ready. As always, the final proposals can be made to the party's general meeting. The logic of democracy is that these proposals are always made to the general meeting, which can then introduce some final changes. But essentially, we have the manifesto ready. In this, the main focus is on people's incomes on the ground - salaries, pensions, as well as energy issues, education and security.

The regional electoral lists are also finalized?

Yes, arrangements have been made. People are already carrying out their campaigning.

Last week somewhat surprisingly, a well-known SDE figure, who in the meantime was busy with court proceedings, joined your Jõgeva and Tartu counties campaign, namely Kajar Lember. How much support do you expect from him and what is your comment on his joining the election campaign?

Yes, Kajar Lember is our number one candidate in Jõgeva and Tartu counties and he has been around for quite some time. His years-long struggle with charges, where he was blamed for having had a nine-euro haircut, but for free, and various other things... Of course, it's regrettable that his accuser couldn't admit their, mistake and that he'd been ludicrous. But really, this verdict represents an acquittal. (The Prosecutor's Office is appealing this acquittal - ed.).

Now, Lember manages the list for Jõgeva and Tartu County. And we believe that since he was a very strong politician around Tartu and in the city of Tartu in the past; we believe that he still is today. I think standing up for the rule of law and the fair treatment of people will work for many.

What result do you expect from him there?

The top candidates should do the best result in their districts. We have expectations and hopes, and Lember himself also has a plan to achieve a result with the team whereby we would also take the mandate.

You've suffered a setback in Tartu city. While you have the dignified Krista Aru as number one candidate, she would also have been potentially supported by another strong candidate, [recently resigned] Tartu Deputy Mayor Gea Kangilaski, who then switched teams at the last moment. How do you think this will affect your result in Tartu?

We had not planned on Gea Kangilaski being on the electoral list for several months. Unfortunately, it transpired that, as a result of very vocal demands, the Tartu regional SDE found that the position they wanted could not be given this time on this list. 

After that, Gea kept her distance and I understand that she was looking for another party. As a Social Democrat, I hope that she will carry out socially democratic actions with Eesti 200, which by its nature is in fact a right-wing party.

These challenges are there; is it not the case, that when she had fought for this Süku (Südalinna cultural center planned for the center of Tartu - ed.), now she has to fight against it. But experience has shown that Gea Kangilaski can change her views and principles very deftly. So I think she can do it, and good luck to her.

But how does it nonetheless affect your result in Tartu? At the 2019 Riigikogu elections, Kangilaski received 802 votes. Won't you be missing out on quite a few votes?

You know, if you take a look at the rest of our roster, I don't think we're going to miss out on many votes. We have the director of the art museum, Joanna Hoffmann, who joined the political party and is to run for office; we have Krista Aru and quite a few other people, all of whom can seem to the voters to have exactly the same profile as Gea Kangilaski does. Perhaps this was also one of the reasons why he thought that she did not want to run for office at all, or at least to do so on the SDE list. Good people have come to Tartu ... I have no doubt that we will do well in Tartu, I am absolutely convinced of that.

So the reason was that Gea Kangilaski wanted to be number two on the list after Krista Aru, but she was not allowed to do so, and then decisions followed from that?

Yes, it is a democratic process. In the end, it is the local SDE who decide on the order of districts for the party.  They evaluate the potential of each social democrat, their contribution towards the activities of the party, their contribution to the management of the city. Tartu SDE this time saw by consensus that this order of the list could be second, and I understand that Gea Kangilaski feels that she could have potential in a political party that has another worldview.

According to the latest Norstat survey, SDE support stood at 6.7 percent. This is quite a bit above the electoral threshold of five percent. Are you worried about a rating like this? Or are you still convinced that SDE will have no problems crossing the election threshold?

There will be no problems doing that. We have strong lists; we have the oldest political party in Estonia. I think we will get a strong result. We don't get the feeling that our support could stay somewhere around seven percent. We will do better. There are quite a few variables with this election. Let's even look at the fact that there is a political party that may have a lot of support, but the candidates are new, and less well-known. I think this will have an effect at the ballot boxes, but certainly in favor of SDE. Furthermore, hesitations among the Russian-speaking population relating to the war in Ukraine may ultimately bring some major surprises in the election results.

How many Riigikogu seats do you have as your goal?

Naturally we have set a goal of 15. But based on the ratings, I think that we should definitely maintain the current level (of 10 seats-ed.).

How have you planned your election campaign, outdoor advertising, TV advertising etc? What will the proportions be, and how much do you plan to spend on it?

I can't talk about proportions that well; our campaign manager can comment on that. But I think that SDE's advertising budget is at least one million euros, if not more. It will be revealed at the end of the election. Part of this is contributed to from the candidates themselves, while experience shows that the budget planned at the beginning [of a campaign] tends to increase towards the end.

*Both phrases, "Tugev Eesti" and "Palgad peavad tõusma", work better in Estonian, than in English.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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