The 2011 Estonian parliamentary elections are days away. The Reform Party, led by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, is poised to win. But rather than wondering how many seats Mr. Ansip will secure for his party in the next parliament, I am wondering how long Ansip intends to stay on Toompea once the new government is sworn in, sometime next month.
Ansip came to power following the demise of Juhan Parts’ government in 2005. While the Parts era from 2003 to 2005 was marked by tit-for-tat ministerial sackings and gratuitous genuflecture to promises and values, the Ansip era has been dominated by the former Tartu mayor’s teflon persona and a stubbornness that puts him at the George W. Bush level of resolve. This was the man who said famously that he would resign if Estonia didn’t adopt the euro in 2007. His estimate was, in the end, four years off, but Ansip’s been in power for almost six years, so, who’s counting anymore?
Opponents tried to pin Estonia’s avalanche of an economic collapse on the Reform Party, who still believe the country will soon be one of the five richest in Europe. Yet, unlike leaders in other liberal-led countries beset by post-2008 catastrophe (Ahem. Iceland), Reform managed to stay in power until economic growth was restored. Officially, they blame the depression of the past few years on others but take personal credit for the restored growth. There is no arguing. When it comes to politics, these guys are professionals.
Ansip’s lengthy tenure is paralleled by only one former Estonian statesman, the ill-destined Konstantin Päts, who led a military-backed coup to seize power in 1934 and stayed as the unchallenged father of the nation until he was deported by the Soviets in 1940. He later died in a psychiatric hospital in 1956, claiming to the last of his days to be the president of Estonia. And did you know that Ansip was born in 1956, after Päts died? Do you believe in reincarnation?
But Ansip isn’t really a Päts-like demagogue. He has more in common with his cousins in the Baltic. Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been cited as one role model. Former Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is another. Rasmussen spent nearly eight years as leader of Denmark before moving on to NATO secretary general. Vanhanen’s exit in 2010 was less glorious, but he still spent seven years as PM. In both cases, younger party leaders were selected by the party to take over the reins of government.
Who really will be the next prime minister of Estonia, once Ansip finds some more enchanting career opportunity? Will it be some other Reform minister (Justice Minister Rein Lang? Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi?) or will some Reform Party star rise to the position in a special election held sometime in coming months or years?
In Denmark, they voted for Anders Fogh Rasmussen and wound up with Lars Løkke Rasmussen. In Finland, they voted for Matti Vanhanen an wound up with Mari Kiviniemi. Will those Estonians who vote later this week choose Ansip but really wind up with Keit Pentus in the end? If I could vote in Estonia, I would be asking myself that question.