Jüri Ratas: Eesti 200 needs to get out of the 'big squirrel's' shadow

Jüri Ratas (Center).
Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The main task facing Hussar's successor as Eesti 200 chair, former prime minister and current deputy speaker Jüri Ratas (Center) writes, will be to bring the party out from the shadow of its coalition partner, Reform, whose nickname "the squirrels" derives from the party's logo.

Lauri Hussar's explanation on stepping down as Eesti 200's leader, that he now can fully devote himself to work as Riigikogu speaker, is a convenient excuse, Ratas, who remained Center's leader when he became Riigikogu speaker in early 2021, went on in an opinion piece penned for ERR.

Lauri Hussar's resignation as Eesti 200 chair was unexpected, but then again the political token system was already strongly inclined towards such a decision, making it quite a logical, if not inevitable, step to take.

The voters gave Eesti 200 a strong mandate on the evening of March 5 (election day – ed.), when their support stood at 13 percent, which guaranteed them 14 Riigikogu seats.

However, supporters of Eesti 200, seeing that these newcomers to parliament (these were the first seats Eesti 200 had won at the Riigikogu, since being formed in 2018 – ed.) cozying up to Reform within the coalition, quickly voted with their feet.

Eesti 200's rating began to plummet, and as of now, it is just over 6 percent.

In short, this is an existential problem, whose responsibility lies primarily on the shoulders of the party chair.

Hussar's convenient excuse

At the end of the day, Lauri Hussar himself came to realize that in a situation such as this, he has no hope of being re-elected at the party's congress on November 19.

His explanation, that, now, he can fully devote himself to work as Riigikogu speaker, is but a convenient excuse. The position of Riigikogu speaker is not so bone-jarring that it leaves no time to deal with the political party.

But Hussar's resignation can be seen as merely the tip of the iceberg in Estonian politics, an iceberg which will, if not to mix metaphors, set off a domino effect of ensuing events.

For Eesti 200 as a political party, the departure of the current chair on its own may be a small step, but we can likely expect major changes in Estonian politics in the near future.

Naturally much depends on who ends up the next Eesti 200 chair.

The main task facing the new leader will be to bring the party out of the shadows of the Reform Party, or the "big squirrel." Hussar's utterance before the general elections that "if Eesti 200 reaches the Riigikogu, the Reform Party will have no obstacles to implementing one thing or another," should be discarded in the trash can.

Even amid the prime minister's eastern transport-related scandal, the role of Eesti 200 has been confined to nodding along to Kaja Kallas' every talking point. The keywords "long-term plan" and "personalized state" might be nice words, but no real steps have been taken to actually implement these. And this has not gone unnoticed by voters.

Margus Tsahkna v. Kristina Kallas

Currently, Eesti 200 and their Minister of Education, Kristina Kallas are looking at a great opportunity to establish themselves and to fulfill their pledge to raise teachers' salaries by 8 percent. 

However, inside the Stenbock House, they should put their foot down and say that if teachers' wages do not rise, then there can be no car tax either.

Moreover, The Ministry of Education's claim that the teachers' strike runs against the law is simply pathetic and fundamentally false.

All this means that Eesti 200's tales of a long-range plan have rapidly run out of steam, so it must be recognized that they are not actually fit to bear governmental responsibility. 

This is what can happen when you start building a roof on a house before the foundations are adequate enough.

And who might Eesti 200's next leader be? I forecast that Margus Tsahkna, who formerly led IRL 2015-2017 (present-day Isamaa – ed.), will surely be a candidate. Kristina Kallas, a former SDE member who chaired Eesti 200 2018-2022, could be his alternative.

That said, I don't find the potential successors Hussar enumerated (Eesti 200 MPs Hendrik Terras, Igor Taro and Liisa Pakosta) to be overly compelling. The trump card seems to be in Tsahkna's hands, simply because he has the longer experience in politics.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kaupo Meiel

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