Social democrats blow off steam but continue with Ossinovski

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Jevgeni Ossinovski.

PHOTO: Konstantin Sednev

Hannes Hanso and Rainer Vakra remained the only leading figures of the Social Democrat Party (SDE) to swim upstream in pointing to the possibility of replacing chairman Jevgeni Ossinovski in light of the minority coalition partner’s waning rating yesterday. The rest of the party core believes improved PR can bring voters back in time for the 2019 Riigikogu elections.

“We should be honest in talking about replacing the chairman,” MP Hannes Hanso told Delfi yesterday.

The former defense minister has been in silent opposition of the party’s leadership for a month – ever since he voted in favor of expressing no confidence against Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) against the party’s decision. Hanso opened the wound again yesterday when he said the party’s dwindling rating could be the result of that decision that went against SDE’s values.

The social democrats’ rating has been hovering around 8 percent for some time. The last time support for the party was that modest was in 2008 – before chairman Jüri Pihl was replaced.

“Every time a professional politician hears about a change to their rating or that of their party, they should take a moment to reflect. Whence the change?” MP Rainer Vakra said.

As the day progressed, it became clear Hanso and Vakra were largely alone, and that the rest of the party had already agreed on talking points to justify the poor rating.

“Quickly demanding scalps is the simplest way of boosting one’s own rating,” MEP Ivari Padar said.

He said that while there are no irreplaceable people, the situation needs to be analyzed before changing leaders. Padar added that such an analysis would quickly show that the party has nothing to criticize Ossinovski for.

“I believe Jevgeni Ossinovski has rather made PR mistakes. He has been unsuccessful at communication. The biggest mistake is that a number of achievements have not been explained to the people,” Padar found.

“I have no reason to lean to either side; however, looking at what other government would have maintained such a left-center line, there hasn’t been one,” he said.

MP Liisa Oviir agreed. She said the party has not supported Ossinovski enough in the public and failed to explain its policies to the voter.

“This includes oversight on the part of the faction and myself. All this has created the impression that we are a one-trick pony which isn’t true,” Oviir reasoned.

The MP said that replacing Ossinovski would yield no benefit. “I do not believe it sensible to change drivers halfway into the race.”

SDE Secretary General Kalvi Kõva did not rush to take blame. He said that while the rating has plummeted because of alcohol excise duty hikes and missed tax revenue, it is not something the social democrats can be blamed for.

“The excise duty on alcohol is hiked through the finance ministry, and border trade was created because of a sharp hike of the duty on strong alcohol by the Reform Party’s government,” Kõva said. “PR firms have done a beautiful job of making it our fault.”

The secretary general said that the party’s sad state is the common responsibility of all members. “Everyone must think about what we’ve done wrong,” he said.

Kõva said that he has not received signals from regional organizations calling for Ossinovski to resign. The secretary general is not afraid of the status quo holding until the 2019 elections and sinking the party’s election result. “I don’t see it, as who else would do these good things without the social democrats in the government?”

Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Urve Palo said that SDE is a forward-looking party that wants to introduce positive change in society even if it works against their popularity in the short term. “It would be very sad were we to condemn and punish such conduct. Jevgeni has the support of members of the party,” she said.

SDE board member and member of the Tartu city government Marju Lauristin dispelled all doubt regarding whether Ossinovski will be replaced.

“It is clear: the party currently has no reason or intent to discuss replacing the chairman. We should follow the example of Mart Laar and Siim Kallas who have come under far more serious fire: they have had enough tenacity and fortitude to stay in politics and do what they believed was right, and I believe Jevgeni is cut from the same cloth,” she suggested.

Lauristin said that Ossinovski represents the party’s core values very well. “I do not believe replacing a good chairman with another good chairman would change the party’s policy. Jevgeni has kept the party on a value-based course,” the veteran politician said.

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