Editorial: Reform Party – the Swedbank of Estonian politics

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

Today, Reform Party has a party: it turns twenty. Glancing in the rear view mirror, chief squirrels may get some satisfaction – the project launched by a midnight talk between Heiki Kranich and Siim Kallas in the Vienna hotel De France has evolved into a corner stone, a market leader and a power hub of Estonian politics. Easily, its position strikes a comparison to that of Swedbank in banking – 43 percent of all deposits at half year mark. Reform holds a third of the parliament and half the government, matching the impact. 

The banking parallel is putting it simply of course, as over there the money is not redistributed every four years. Still, the squirrels already look headed towards the spring election with a spring in their step, carried by the second highest generation change wave in their history. Fresh cooked or reinvent-myself politicians are jumping around the Reformer candidate list threshold, seeking for a safe city of refuge.

The Swedbank comparison also dates back to history. Its predecessor, Hansapank, launched out seeking the best clients, repelling the common people by charging 500 kroons to open an account. Also true regarding the Reformers: starting out, they were a niche party stressing the big business interests. As interviewed by Postimees, Siim Kallas calls it a club-type party. Even so, no longer can Swedbank and Reform Party close doors to any.

While nicknaming themselves a people’s party, the truth is somewhat down to earth: can’t rise to market leader and stay there without policy and action plan in all segments. Therefore, their last decade features nods towards directions coloured conservative, national, social, green and tolerant. Who could have ever guessed that the IRL conservatives would try overtaking the Reformers, by tax amendment, driving from the left? Or Reformers waiving the partial-work-capacity crowd interests banner – in run-up to elections?

For Reform Party, the enemy most dangerous is staring from the looking glass. A «something for everybody»-party, there’s the constant threat to slide into populism, to fossilise into a keep-the-power machine, to forsake whatever it was that lured the early supporters: liberality, personal freedoms.

Till today, some say Reform Party is for Estonia what United Russia is for Moscow. Thankfully, Estonia has her free and democratic elections and, though from a position quite comfy, the squirrels will have to earn their new nuts at ballot boxes.