TALLINN - Despite the dramatic fall in its rating, the ruling Res Publica party intends to win back its voters and compete in all electoral districts at the next local elections, the party congress pronounced this week.
The party's congress, the fourth in its young history and held in Rakvere on Sept.18, focused on Res Publica's rapidly declining support and defeat in the recent European Parliament election. Party leaders called for all centrist-minded and right-wing political forces in the country to unite.
In his opening speech, Party Chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts said that voters, like schoolteachers, give parties marks by either supporting or not supporting them.
"Our marks have been low and unsatisfactory. Hence we have left something undone and done something wrong," he told the some 1,000 people gathered at the congress.
Parts called the autumn 2003 row with the People's Union one of the present government's most difficult moments, though the defeat in the June European Parliament election and news of the first Estonian soldier killed in Iraq in February 2004 also marked significant hardships.
He also mentioned what is currently the most sensitive subject in the country 's the removal of the WWII freedom-fighter monument in Lihula 's as it had a major effect on the government's popularity.
According to the Saar pollster, the removal of the monument earlier this month cut Estonians' trust in Parts by 20 percent. In August, by comparison, about 51 percent of this group had trusted the young prime minister.
As for non-Estonians, the same poll showed a jump in support thanks to the monument's removal.
Parts said that he apologized to those who had suffered as a result of the monument being revealed.
"What I do not intend to apologize for is the government's removal of the monument and for Estonian police securing the public order there," he said, adding that the government still plans to build a monument commemorating those who fought and died for Estonia.
Parts mentioned employment and education as the primary tools for building a wealthier country and promised to have 21,000 jobless people employed next year thanks to adult education courses.
The congress re-elected Parts as their party chairman, with 832 votes in favor and 191 votes against. Res Publica ministers also passed the traditional confidence test at the congress.
Responding to Parts' call for a broad right-wing coalition, politicians sounded skeptical.
People's Union Deputy Chairman Mario Sootna said that such attempts to combine parties appeared from time to time, and that the last major unification had been rallying under the People's Union name.
"Now it's the turn of right-wing parties. It's logical in a way, because Res Publica surfaced from among young Reform Party members. The People's Union finds it is logical for parties fighting for the same things to unite, but to do it the programmatic views have to be really close to each other," Sootna told the Baltic News Service.
Olari Koppel, press officer of the Social-Democratic Party, said that it was only a matter of time before Res Publica and the Reform Party united.
"But it is questionable why the Pro Patria Union and the People's Union should join the united party," he added.
Peeter Kreitzberg of the newly formed Social-Liberal group said that a wide merger of parties was unlikely.
"If Res Publica made an appeal for cooperation, it is positive," he said, adding that only parties with similar principles 's in this case Res Publica and Reform 's could unite.
"I cannot imagine a wider merger. The proposal looks slightly unrealistic to me," Kreitzberg said.
Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar said the idea of a strong left-wing party was now better than ever before. Writing in the daily SL Ohtuleht last week he said that the two leading right-wing parties 's Reform Party and Res Publica 's were intrinsically closer than any other Estonian parties.
"The merger would be quite painless to them, as one of them has actually grown out of the other," Savisaar wrote.