Indrek Saar has been elected new leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDE), in the second round of voting. Riina Sikkut, tipped by many as favorite as new leader, was eliminated in the first round of voting Sunday, in a three-candidate race.
The results of the first round put Lauri Läänemets, a former Vaatsa rural municipality mayor, in first place on 164 votes, with Saar, a former culture minister in second place with 157 votes. Riina Sikkut, a former health minister, got 121 votes, at the SDE meeting held at the Vanemuine Concert Hall in Tartu.
Riina Sikkut had had the backing of 25 SDE members, including veteran politician, academic and former MEP Marju Lauristin, according to an internally circulated party letter.
After the results of the first round were announced, just after 1 p.m., a two-hour period of speeches, presentations, and voting on the party's board took place.
WIth Sikkut eliminated, the second round of voting saw Saar and Läänemets run-off against each other. Saar evidently was second choice for more of the former Sikkut-voters, on around a 2:1 ratio. Saar received 231 votes to Läänemets' 201 in the second round, handing him the leadership, as announced shortly after 3 p.m.
Outgoing leader Jevgeni Ossinovski announced he would stand down as leader in April, after four years at the helm.
The party was in office in the last administration, but found itself with 10 seats (down from 14) after the March 3 election, and was unable to mount a successful coalition alliance with the Reform Party.
Indrek Saar, 46, trained as an actor and is a former director of the Rakvere Theatre. He appeared as a recurring character on long-running ETV drama Õnne 13, in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
Indrek Saar noted after his selection that his party's socially democratic core values were going nowhere.
"We await in these harsh times the passing of this somewhat crazy period in Estonian politics, and in those of the wider world," Saar said, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
"I believe that Estonia will stay a socially democratic state and that SDE will stand for this from dawn till dusk," he continued.
He admitted that mistakes had been made in recent times, by his party, but added that these should be learned from and not cause an abandoning of core values.
"We must prioritize reducing poverty, and building more equal opportunities in Estonia's regions. We can see that in other parts of Estonia, gross domestic product is significantly lower than in the metropolitan region – all these issues need to be addressed," he continued.
The party should focus more on action than confrontation, he added.
"We do not have to deal with EKRE all day, but we have to deal with those members of the society who feel somehow alone, without hope; those who have turned to the dark side for some reason," he told ERR.
In a press release, he also stated one of the greatest challenges facing Estonian society is the right-wing extremism that has now entered government, sowing the verbal discord left and right, with the deliberate instigation of conflict and anger.
"The right-wing extremism which has been unleashed worldwide will not disappear by itself. This is one further reason why Estonia should not let Europe break down, and crush its allies. The more brains, the more different experiences, the faster we will overcome this crisis," Saar continued.
"However, those who say that extremist politicians have greater support in those regions and amongst those persons who are objectively poorer, are correct. Thus we need to take a more serious approach to creating more equal opportunities, reducing regional disparities, and the feeling of being alone," he added.
Lauri Läänemets, on conceding, said that Saar had a more balance program than either or Riina Sikut had, adding that the question now was how to bring his ideas to life.
"Indrek has always said that SDE must never sound like some sort of clerk who teaches people how to live. I think he will also manage this admirably," Läänemets said.
Healing the wounds in society was SDE's responsibility going forward, he added.
"It is up to us to make people see again that the social democrats stand for all people, including those who felt alienated in the run-up to the general election and thus perhaps cast their vote for EKRE," he continued.
"This was a protest vote, but I believe, seeing as though our party members place a great deal of emphasis in reducing inequality, that this could in fact happen," Läänemets continued.
Läänemets said his next move would be on one of the Riigikogu's committees, but did not know which yet, as that needed to be discussed by the SDE parliamentary grouping.
"I think that my role is to continue along the lines I laid out today: Standing up for the working person, and combating inequality," he added.
Riina Sikkut told ERR that she was not disappointed with the result.
"The delegates made their choice; I work for the party come what may," she said.
"If we are to take another route and emphasize that we can make the organization work better, plus prepare for the next local government elections, then Indrek has the necessary management experience and strength in order to put into action what he plans to do," Sikkut said, noting she voted for Saar in the second round, after being eliminated.
Editor: Andrew Whyte