In a comment for daily Postimees, political analyst Ahto Lobjakas identifies three key moments in Estonian politics last year that will affect the country for a good while to come: the Center Party's balancing the political system, the rehabilitation of the Russian-speaking voter, and the government's kicking-off a serious tax debate.
According to Lobjakas, the Estonian political landscape has undergone substantial change since Jüri Ratas was elected chairman of the Center Party and became prime minister shortly after. All three of last year's key moments in Estonian politics were defined by these events.
One: Jüri Ratas' rise balances Estonia's politics
Lobjakas writes that Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' government has managed to balanced off a political system that was previously defined by the Reform Party.
With the deposition of long-time chairman Edgar Savisaar, who until that point served as a bogeyman image for the Reform Party and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) and who was rejected as a potential coalition partner by everyone else in Estonian politics, the Center Party rehabilitated itself and instantly rose to the top. This has created a second political reference point, and added a second political force to lead possible government coalitions.
Lobjakas points to Reform Party founder and former EU commissioner Siim Kallas' recent interview with ERR. In it, Kallas said that winning the parliamentary elections in March 2019 is vital to the Reform Party's survival. If this is really the case, the coming leader of the party, most likely Kallas' daughter and current Estonian MEP Kaja Kallas, could find herself in the role of captain of a sinking ship should the Center Party manage to gain on its competitor.
At the same time, Kallas made it clear in his interview that he isn't opposed to the idea of a coalition with the Center Party, hinting at there being others in his party who might think the same way. An indicator for this is the fact that though the Reform Party has been extremely critical of the coalition's budget policy, they have not rejected the government's tax change to the effect of lessening the burden on all those with smaller incomes.
According to Lobjakas, a disintegration of the Reform Party caused by losing the next elections and a failure to be part of the next government coalition would further destabilize Estonian politics, though in such a case it would be the political right that suffers.
Two: Rehabilitation of the Russian-speaking voter
The second key moment of 2017 was the rehabilitation of the Russian-speaking voter, Lobjakas writes. Though there is no telling how long the current situation may last, with the changes in the Center Party and the government as well as the results of the 2017 local elections, the Russian-speaking voters and all the things that matter to them have definitely gained importance.
Lobjakas points to a recent survey that brought out that up to 60 percent of Russian Estonians consider good relations with Russia an essential matter in the question of Estonia's security. Though the current return of the Russian community's interests to the political agenda might not influence Estonia's stance in these matters all that much, they will have to be taken seriously to some degree.
If not, the stability of both the Center Party as well as Estonian politics on the whole could suffer. Should the interests of the Russian-speaking voters be ignored, the latter might come to see popular Russian-Estonian politicians like Yana Toom and Mihhail Kõlvart as frauds, or those politicians themselves could do considerable damage to the Center Party and the coalition.
According to Lobjakas, it is possible that the recent attacks by the opposition on state institutions for running information campaigns on Russian state channels such as PBK have been prompted by the outcome of last year's local elections.
Because PBK is an important source of news for two thirds of Estonia's Russian speakers, turning away from them would be a recipe for disaster, Lobjakas writes. If Estonia can't treat the Russian voters as equal participants, the divide between communities can only deepen, which again would affect Estonia's security for the worse.
Three: Estonia finally has a serious tax debate
The government's decision to introduce a de facto progressive income tax by raising the tax-free income to €500 and making the tax-free amount dependent on the size of people's salaries finally started a serious tax debate, Lobjakas writes.
Though this debate has focused on numbers and matters of sufficient revenue this far, it concerns the more important questions connected to where the Estonian society is headed. Should the Estonian society be built on the principle of equal opportunity, like it has been to this point, or should it move towards more equality?
This question isn't just about economics, but rather about the pillars of solidarity in Estonia's society, Lobjakas writes. What happened in 2017, depending on what happens next, could turn into a progressive tax system snuck in by the Center Party, or an ideological challenge for the Reform Party to reconciliate the necessity to take care of the Estonian economy's weakest participants with its principles of market-liberal tax policy.
Editor: Dario Cavegn