Läänemets, Saar, Sikkut now running for Social Democrats chair ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Announced her intention to run on May 6: Riina Sikkut.
Announced her intention to run on May 6: Riina Sikkut. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of candidates for the chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) has risen to three. Since outgoing chair Jevgeni Ossinovski's announcement that he won't run anymore, Lauri Läänemets, Indrek Saar, and Riina Sikkut have announced their candidacies.

For Estonia's regions and the countryside, Lauri Läänemets

Lauri Läänemets is a former member of EKRE precursor, the People's Union of Estonia (Rahvaliit). He joined SDE in 2010. Läänemets was the chairman of the Young Social Democrats from 2011 to 2013, and in the latter year was elected mayor of Väätsa, a now defunct rural municipality in Järva County. He held the position until Väätsa merged with neighboring Türi and Käru to form the municipality of Türi in November 2017.

Läänemets has built a solid reputation as a volunteer and civic activist. He is a member of both the Defence League (Kaitseliit) and the Police and Border Guard Board's assistant policemen. He has been a candidate in several general and European elections for Rahvaliit, a combined list of Rahvaliit and the Estonian Greens, and SDE.

He is a former member of a precursor of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) due to a reshuffle fairly typical of Estonian politics. Ideologically, Rahvaliit was a populist-agrarian patchwork party made up of a variety of interest groups, including those that eventually pushed for the merger that produced EKRE in 2012. When its top echelons became embroiled in a corruption scandal of massive proportions in 2006 involving the privatization of state land, the party began to flounder and crashed from formerly 13 percent voter share to under 5 percent.

It was following this crash that several of its interest groups jumped ship, with members changing to various other parties, including SDE. On its way to eventually becoming EKRE, the party went through different phases, among other things a failed merger with the Centre Party of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.

Ideology and party affiliations aside, Lauri Läänemets has been nominated as a candidate for the SDE chairmanship by the party's Setomaa branch: "We decided to nominate Lauri Läänemets, as he has proven himself as a down-to-earth leader of the people with the ability to listen and the desire to include members of the party and opinions from outside of Tallinn more," said Setomaa branch chairman and Setomaa Municipal Mayor Raul Kudre.

Among the currently three candidates, Läänemets represents Estonia's rural and more remote areas, while Indrek Saar comes out of the more urban artistic scene, and Riina Sikkut out of social policy and public administration.

For the urban and artistic crowds, Indrek Saar

Former Minister of Culture Indrek Saar announced late last week that he intends to run for the SDE chairmanship. Saar previously challenged Jevgeni Ossinovski and has long had ambitions for the party's top position.

Saar wrote in a social media post on Sunday morning that he would like to "build up" the party together with the many good people that have carried it so far. "To make Estonia and the world a friendly place," he added.

The raison d'être of Social Democracy as a political philosophy is to strive for balance, Saar wrote further. This means the inclusion of all of the members of society, and the support and protection of all those that can't fend for themselves.

Indrek Saar is an actor by trade. He was the director of Rakvere Theatre from 1996 to 2005, remained with the theatre's foundation until 2006 and then took over as director of Tallinn's now defunct NO99 theatre.

From 2002 to 2007 Saar was a member of the Rakvere city council. He became a member of the Riigikogu the same year and was reelected in 2011. From 2015 to 2019, Saar was minister of culture first under Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) and later under Jüri Ratas.

For social policy and public administration, Riina Sikkut

Riina Sikkut, until recently minister of health and labour in Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' first cabinet, announced on Monday morning that she is a candidate for the SDE chairmanship as well.

Sikkut said in an announcement circulated to party members that beyond trying to find out what has recently gone wrong, the Social Democrats need to define the role they want to play in Estonian society from here on in.

"The question isn't one of rising pensions or the number of holidays, but which problems we need to solve in the 21st century that require the same fervor as was needed to introduce the concept of a state pension or holidays for employees more than a hundred years ago," Sikkut said.

The then revolutionary ideas that Social Democracy stood for, including health insurance, social services, pensions, workplace health and safety, paid holidays and free education are now commonplace across parties, Sikkut said, suggesting that SDE will have to find new aims.

While on one hand a reversion to the party's roots does make sense, more than that will eventually be needed, she added. The party needs an ambitious platform to contribute to Estonia's lasting development.

Riina Sikkut worked for the Ministry of Finance from 2005 to 2008, and at Swedbank from 2008 to 2009. From 2011 to 2017, Sikkut worked as a health policy analyst at Estonian think tank Praxis, following which she became an adviser in the Government Office's strategy department.

She followed on Jevgeni Ossinovski as minister of health and labour in May 2018, a position she held until the end of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' first cabinet in April this year.

The Social Democratic Party will meet for its 2019 congress on June 9, when it will also elect its new chairman.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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