Rein Raud: Isamaa, Centre faced with classic prisoner's dilemma

Rein Raud.
Rein Raud. Source: Private library

It seems to me as though, taking things rationally, the prisoner's dilemma facing both the Centre Party and Isamaa has gone so far that, contrary to the beliefs of some analysts, it would be rational to instead start taking bets on which of the two parties will back out of the current coalition talks first in order to stave off the birth of the most unpopular and incompetent government in the history of the reindependent Estonia, writes Rein Raud.

My personal favourite would be Isamaa. Now that [party chairman] Helir-Valdor Seeder's main pension fund campaign promise apparently won't be included in the coalition agreement, it would be easy for him to say yes, we hoped that the common ground with these partners was greater, but it turned out that it isn't after all. The Reform Party would likely help him save face with a promise, for example, to form a coalition which would be tasked with thoroughly analysing the functioning of the II pension fund and, if necessary, carry out reforms.

The Isamaa chief would stand to win a few things: a minister's portfolio would in all likelihood be guaranteed in a Reform-Isamaa-Social Democratic Party (SDE) coalition anyway, but the mass haemorrahging of party members as well as criticism over the current process would both come to an end. And if current tendencies continue, this could lead to the kind of interal clashes within the party that would not permit him to remain at its helm.

If the Centre Party were to retreat first, that portfolio would be off the table as well. But if he were to decide to take this step, sensible conservatism would remain on Estonia's political playing field, which is very important in my opinion.

Of course, this worldview could become Estonia 200's banner in the future, if Isamaa vacates its current position, but it's too soon to say. It's clear, in any case, that one cannot possibly be reasonably conservative and simultaneously serve as EKRE's coffee boy, and now would be the appropriate time to say so.

Such a scenario is contradicted by the possibility that Seeder might just prefer not to share the room with people who will not succumb to him mentally. And that that is the reason why he prefers his current company. I hope that this isn't the case.

It would make perfect sense for the Centre Party to put an end to these negotiations as well. Their party rating is in a free fall, and the prime minister's main job clearly wouldn't be ribbon-cutting ceremonies but rather daily apologies on behalf of yet more statements made by their coalition partners, to which their partners would respond with new insults.

Is that chair really worth it? All the moreso considering the fact that [Estonia's] finances are in very bad shape and very difficult decisions lie ahead? This same question may of course occur to some other Centre Party leading politician who thinks further ahead than four years, especially as they have no designs on the prime minister's chair at the moment, but would consider replacing the party's failed leader.

Taking this into account, it would be rational for [Centre chairman] Jüri Ratas to retreat and take up some other, albeit less lofty position, as soon he may not have this option left either. Of course, if the current process has arisen due to the "inactive" protocol with United Russia, as some of my more paranoid friends believe (and with whom 30% of me tends to agree), then one cannot expect a retreat from the Centre Party — if an order has come from headquarters to shape Estonia into a failed Nazi state, then so it must be done. But 70% of me still doesn't want to agree with this theory.

So both Isamaa and the Centre Party are faced with a fairly classic prisoner's dilemma — of the sort in which potential losses outweigh potential gains by a landslide. In such a situation, in light of Estonia's current political norms, one should take their so-called partner's promise to see this through to victory as a warning sign and an attempt to get one's guard down.

It cannot be ruled out that the so-called partner has actually already sent [Reform chairwoman] Kaja Kallas a message, asking if she's asleep. If they have, however, there's no reason to be mad — their colleague has behaved in a statesmanlike-way, and in the long term, this will surely also benefit the children and grandchildren of the losers as well.


Opinion piece posted with the author's permission.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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