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Reform Party in-fighting: Chairman may soon face challenger, daily reports

Kristen Michal at a party council meeting. Daily Postimees speculated on Nov. 22 that Michal may be preparing to challenge party chairman Hanno Pevkur.
Kristen Michal at a party council meeting. Daily Postimees speculated on Nov. 22 that Michal may be preparing to challenge party chairman Hanno Pevkur. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

Daily Postimees speculated on Wednesday that in-fighting in the party could lead to what is described as an alliance between Reform Party heavyweights Kristen Michal and Kaja Kallas against Reform's current chairman, Hanno Pevkur. Pevkur reacted with a letter to party members, calling on them to put a stop to gossip and political spins.

Former long-time ministers Pevkur and Michal faced off in the Reform Party's chairmanship elections at the beginning of this year. Pevkur won with the promise to open up the party and to make it more inclusive for all those not immediately a part of its leadership, and its most prominent members' inner circle.

Michal was the party's candidate for mayor in Tallinn in the local elections in October this year. With his campaign he was able to substantially increase the party's number of mandates on the city council, and has been outspoken about policy choices that would also affect national politics, e.g. Estonian-language instruction starting at the kindergarten level.

Pevkur is seen as the "softer" choice, as Michal has the reputation of an occasionally cold-blooded realpolitiker. But since his election in January, the Reform Party made a rather listless impression, its criticism of the current coalition of the Center Party, the Social Democrats, and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) being superficial, and with few legislative advances against the government achieved in the Riigikogu. Meanwhile the government's troubles stem mostly from the by now permanent in-fighting in the coalition, most recently fuelled by IRL chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder and the minister of finance, Toomas Tõniste (also IRL).

According to Postimees, Pevkur met with other key party members on Monday, among them the chairman of its parliamentary group, Jürgen Ligi, and the party's economics expert, Maris Lauri. On the agenda was the future of the party, and what to do next with a view to the coming parliamentary elections in 2019.

Meanwhile, Kristen Michal met with MEP Kaja Kallas (Reform/ALDE) and her father, former party chairman and EU commissioner Siim Kallas. The meeting also included Martin Kukk and Annika Arras, both party members and partners in PR agency Milton. Kukk is a former secretary-general of the Reform Party.

As Postimees writes, the party's top echelons are worried that Michal may be preparing an attack on Pevkur, to happen some time in 2018. According to the paper, Pevkur's inner circle tends to suspect Michal of being behind reports in the media of supposedly questionable decisions of the party's chairman, and has become "hypersensitive" towards him.

Thanks to "several wrong moves" on Pevkur's part, Michal now had an opening: if he managed to bring Kaja Kallas on his side, who in the January chairmanship elections supported Pevkur, they could join forces and attempt to dethrone Michal's opponent, Postimees writes. Helping along with this is Kallas's father, who the paper suggests is close to Michal.

That there is a divide in the Reform Party became apparent in the 2016 presidential elections, when the party couldn't completely agree which of its candidates to support. While the old guard backed Siim Kallas, there were several people in the party who would have voted for Marina Kaljurand instead. The rift this created now seems to affect the party's day to day politics as well.

Postimees asked several prominent party members to comment, former Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and MEP Kaja Kallas among them. Both rejected the idea of party in-fighting, and that anything like the described plan was in the works.

Party chairman Hanno Pevkur sent a letter to party members on Wednesday, asking them to put an end to gossip and leaks, and to help against the recently bad press the party has had. "Being at each others' throats won't win us the elections. The Reform Party needs to be the force that brings in new and bold ideas," Pevkur wrote.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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