Raimond Kaljulaid: Emotional outbursts do not befit a prime minister

Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE).
Raimond Kaljulaid (SDE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Emotional lashing out and blaming others more befits the cast of a reality TV show and not the behavior of a prime minister, coalition Social Democrat MP Raimond Kaljulaid writes.

I have consistently supported Kaja Kallas at Riigikogu votes, but currently I have no answer to the question of whether I will continue to do so in future.

Before entering politics, I worked for a spell in communications, and thanks to this, I have come across cases of crisis communication in both private and public sectors. 

I fail to understand how it is possible that the ability to act in a crisis situation seems so non-existent with the leader of one of the largest and most influential parties in Estonia, not to mention the prime minister.

Let's start with the fact that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' entire attitude exudes a deep indignation that she has ended up in such an unfair situation in the first place.

Any politician holding the office of prime minister must assume that their personhood and activities will attract the greatest possible media interest in Estonia. This means that, sooner or later, either the media or the opposition will find some angle of attack, with everyone, even if that person is something of a saint.

Has there ever been a prime minister who has managed to have a scandal-free career?

From the time of Andrus Ansip (2005-2014 – ed.), we remember the scandal Reform's "hidden" finances. From Juhan Parts' tenure, the Lihula incident (the 2004 removal of a statue commemorating Estonians who had fought in the German Army in World War Two – ed.). The ruble scandal from Mart Laar's first term as prime minister (when 2.3 billion rubles were sold to the breakaway Chechen republic – ed.), and the photo scandal from his second term (when Laar apparently fired a shotgun at a photo of Center Party co-founder Edgar Savisaar – ed.).

Taavi Rõivas faced some very serious complaints regarding the filming of a party campaigning ad within the territory of the Ämari Air Base. 

During the second coalition of Jüri Ratas (2019-2021, EKREIKE – ed.), one media crisis was succeeded by another. 

But Ratas coped with these crises much better then, than Kallas does with hers now.

Media crises simply go hand in glove with the office of prime minister. A professional manager would be prepared for such crises. Top managers in the private sector do learn crisis communication, and organizations prepare for media issues, very seriously. 

In the case of private sector managers, it is unlikely that these skills and plans would actually ever be required in practice, but considerable preliminary work is done in any case, in order to mitigate risks.

As prime minister, one can be sure that sooner or later exactly what has happened here, will transpire, making preparation mentally, organizationally and in every other way vital.

The only factor that can ensure crisis resilience is preparation. The principle of crisis communication really means that messages must be precise and clear. 

They must not change over time, because unfortunately it is noticed that one day the prime minister said one thing, and the next day, another.

Every word and every syllable that comes out of the prime minister's mouth in such a situation must be checked several times and be accurate. The Prime Minister thinks what he says, not what he thinks. Even sincere human mistakes are considered mistakes in such a situation. If no answer is given, no answer will be given. Excessive chatter is avoided because the risk of saying something stupid increases exponentially. None of this has been done by Kallas.

Just as important – and perhaps even more important – than the content of messages is the tone and manner in which they are delivered.

A politician or top private sector executive who finds themselves in the epicenter of a scandal must radiate calmness and composure, which will instill confidence. 

A nervous and agitated state, on the other hand, demonstrates a sign of a loss of presence of mind, and of confusion, a lack of leadership qualities, insincerity and unprofessionalism. 

A manager must have a high stress tolerance. Emotional lashing out and blaming others is on the level of a reality TV cast member, and not a prime minister.

Many world leaders have pulled through some very serious scandals, including ones of a private nature.

The Monica Lewinsky case, which overshadowed Bill Clinton's second term, was so serious that it could even have significantly hindered the NATO expansion process (see ME Sarotte, "Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate", 2021).

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's wife's business and tax activities have now repeatedly caused him political troubles.

Boris Johnson's wife (Carrie Symond's – ed.) allegedly tended to meddle in the work of the Prime Minister's Office, a bit like Raissa Gorbacheva did while Mikhail Gorbachev was in office.

Kaja Kallas may have been likened to Margaret Thatcher in the past POLITICO, but unfortunately what we have seen in the current controversy resembles more Liz Truss.

 I have consistently supported our Prime Minister at Riigikogu votes since 2019. But right now, I have no answer to the question of whether I will do so in the future.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaupo Meiel

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