Kallas’ words send Pevkur into action

Reformierakonna esimees Hanno Pevkur.

PHOTO: Sander Ilvest

Chairman of the Reform Party Hanno Pevkur made a high-powered statement yesterday: the party should elect its potential new leader in a month’s time.

“The debate was always coming. Because Siim Kallas let the genie out if its lamp on Thursday so to speak, we took up the matter in the board,” Pevkur explained.

The genie in question was Kallas’ idea, expressed in an interview to ERR online the day before yesterday, that the Reform Party cannot meet the 2019 parliamentary elections split, which is why it should hold an extraordinary chairman election come summer. Kallas said in the same interview that he has no doubt the Center Party will win in 2019. He did not rule out a coalition between Center and Reform.

If we add to the mix a rumor circulating in the party’s leadership, according to which Kallas’ actions serve a high-flying political move that would see him return to Brussels as European commissioner instead of Ansip (Andrus Ansip currently serves as vice-president of the European Commission – ed.), there is motive aplenty.

The Reform Party needs to be in the government to be eligible for a commissioner’s position, while Hanno Pevkur’s sharp criticism of the Center Party leaves the reformists with precious little leeway in terms of coalition talks. Pevkur said in a recent statement that the Reform Party wants to win the Riigikogu elections and end Center’s policy.

Looking at ratings, Center’s popularity is sufficient to suggest the Reform Party would need to make friends with the ruling party to make it to the next government. That friendship would in turn require a new leader.

At the same time, Kallas told ERR that his time in Brussels is over and done with, which refutes rumors of potential European Commission ambitions.

Deputy Chairman of the Reform Party Urmas Paet told BNS that infighting in the party could go back to the previous chairman election where the camp that supported the losing party is still dissatisfied.

Need to prepare for elections

Pevkur said the Reform Party needs to hurry the election for two reasons: to effectively restart the party, and secondly to secure the mandate of the new board and chairman. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Pevkur said commenting on media coverage of tensions inside the party.

The party therefore faces a choice of whether to extend the current board’s powers or provide a new board with a mandate it can use to prepare for the March 2019 Riigikogu elections. “Looking at the time frame we have, I believe the main thing is to give the board at least a year to prepare for elections,” Pevkur explained.

The board of the Reform Party will convene to discuss extraordinary elections on December 22. Pevkur did not rule out the possibility of running.

Asked whether MEP Kaja Kallas could become the next chairman of the party, Pevkur said: “Whether it will be Urmas Paet, Jürgen Ligi, Hanno Pevkur, Kaja Kallas, or someone else is something we will learn once the time is right.”

Unlike Kallas, Pevkur believes clarity cannot wait until summer. “It is in Estonia’s interest to have its leading opposition force generate new ideas and visions instead of infighting. Clarity cannot wait until the summer of next year. I believe the party should extend the board’s mandate or hold a new election in January as the new board must be given at least one year to prepare for elections,” the chairman said.

Scrambling seems senseless

Deputy Chairman of the Reform Party Jürgen Ligi said that while it is well and good to hold in-house elections, it should not be done in place of actual work. “Our job is to offer a substantial alternative to the current government, and this is not optional. Going after a new leader would eclipse that in the eyes of the public,” Ligi offered. “We will also probably be voicing the things we don’t like about our party soon.”

Ligi said it is too soon to speculate as concerns the makeup of the new board and chairman candidates. “The latter needs to be a matter of discussion. I want to hear critical programmatic answers in every precedent; a beauty contest is not for me.” Ligi said.

MEP Urmas Paet said the party needs to maintain balance going forward. “Today (yesterday – ed.) the general mood in the board – among those present – was that we mustn’t scramble. The main thing is to build a bridge,” Paet told BNS. “This means communicating with people, instead of throwing statements left and right.”

Paet said that Siim Kallas did not attend the meeting, while Kaja Kallas did. The latter has been considered as one possible chairman candidate. According to Paet, Kallas believes decisions should not be made hurriedly.

Commenting on Pevkur’s wish to hold an extraordinary election in January, Paet said the idea was discussed but not supported.

“It was not on the agenda, but he did mention it. However, the board did not feel immediate action is needed. Like I said – the attitude was that people need to discuss matters and find the best way to proceed, not pursue gambits,” Paet said.

The general assembly of the Reform Party elected Hanno Pevkur its new chairman on January 7 of this year. Pevkur won with a comfortable margin over influential former secretary general Kristen Michal, considered the favorite of party insiders. Pevkur’s term in office should last until January 2019.

Postimees wrote in November that the Reform Party is split between the board and chairman Hanno Pevkur and Kristen Michal who wants to regain control over the party. MEP Kaja Kallas was mentioned as a potential chairman candidate. Siim Kallas was reluctant to say whether he thinks his daughter Kaja should be elected chairman in his interview to ERR. Postimees did not manage to get a comment from Siim Kallas yesterday.9