• 2004-10-20
You can't say Edgar Savisaar didn't have it coming. For months now the writing has been on the wall, but the Tallinn mayor and his closest advisers neglected to take the time out and just read it. As a result, one defection from the Center Party followed another, until the hemorrhaging reached critical mass. Now one of Estonia's most popular parties is out of power - in both the national and capital city governments.

Arguably, the crisis of confidence in Savisaar began over a year ago, in August 2003, when the Center Party chairman failed to give guidance in regards to EU membership. Instead of working out differences among the pro- and anti-accession factions in his party, Savisaar rode the fence and failed to make known his personal stance on the single most important decision facing Estonia. At best this is poor leadership - at worst, cowardice.

There were, of course, other erosive problems. Tallinn city finances were mismanaged as never before, with property sales serving to fill up holes in the budget. The condition of roads in the capital had generally worsened, as preventative maintenance on lesser-used streets was ditched in favor of paving the main avenues. Center Party propaganda at the city's - i.e., taxpayer's - expense had become more palpable, with city newspapers printing paeans to the former ruling coalition (Center Party + the Reform Party) more frequently and pensioners receiving postcards with a smiling face of "Rhino" Savisaar.

Finally, access to civic leaders become more tightly controlled under Savisaar. Media queries to council members were referred to the press service, throwing a shadow of doubt over the city's transparency. To be sure, the former mayor did grant The Baltic Times an interview in August, but in general, civic transparency suffered while the Center Party's Alan Alakula ran the press office.

Also, it would only be fair to note that there were accomplishments under Savisaar. There was the 5,000-kroon lump-sum child allowance to low-income families, a 500-kroon increase in pensions, a 5,000-kroon lump-sum school allowance to first-graders and the public transportation ticket system based on the ID card.

But now the rhino has had his horn cropped, and he has no one to blame but himself. For Savisaar, the mass departure of seven MPs from the Center Party should have been the signal that something was wrong. The renegade deputies had appealed to him to open up the party's decision-making processes, but they spoke to deaf ears. After all, one cannot expect a strong-willed individual - a control freak - to change overnight. So they left the party. Soon the exodus acquired a self-perpetuating force, as commonsense Centrists on the City Council saw that their ship was sinking and that the life-raft had drifted to the right. Now it is up to Res Publica, the Reformists and the People's Union - the same parties controlling Parliament - to put the Estonian capital back on track.