Monday, March 07, 2011

Estonian Liberals take crisis in their stride

The parliamentary elections in Estonia did indeed deliver the result that I had forecast. The government coalition parties made gains, the opposition Centre Party made losses, yet neither the gains nor the losses amount to a significant breakthrough. The liberal, Reform, party can be pleased to have made gains after an economically punishing few years, although their Conservative coalition partners have slightly more to smile about. By contrast the biggest winners were probably the Social Democrats who nearly doubled their representation at the expense of the Greens and the Agrarians, who did not qualify and the Centrists who lost a couple of seats.

So where does that leave us?

In a word it leaves us "stability". In the face of pretty difficult times, the country has decided to stick with the people and the policies that it knows. On the other hand the rise of the "Sotsid" is a clear warning that there is the potential for a realignment on the left. The coalition will need to rise to this challenge and renew itself before the current Parliament is completed: this is a challenge not just for the Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, but also for the leadership of the IRL too. The more socially conservative direction that the IRL has adopted was not popular across the party, and that will make it harder for the party to remain fully united.

The Sotsid will be jubilant that their young leader has put their party firmly back on the political stage, but they, having carved out a distinctive position on social issues- and having gained the support of a section of the Russian speakers- will now need to maintain momentum, and this will be hard, whether the SDE joins the coalition- which seems unlikely- or not.

The election was largely fought as a retrospective look at the economic policies of the past few years. Yet the success of the renewed coalition will depend on a new energy and momentum being established in order to face the challenges of the future. It is an open question as to how the old war horses of IRL and Reform can respond to the new situation.

Despite the repeated scandals that have hit Kesk, and its controversial leader, Edgar Savisaar, the fact is that a large number of voters- by no means all of them Russian speakers- have chosen to ignore the allegations, and even the evidence. The position of the coalition may be less secure than it first appears.

No comments: