Dirty tricks foreshadowed in election campaign

  • 2006-12-13
  • By Joel Alas

SUBLIMINAL: The Center Party's famous 'K' stirred controversy in 2005 as it was almost identical to a popular curd snack.

TALLINN - Hopes of a clean campaign in the lead-up to Estonia's general election next spring have been rattled after controversial businessman Oli-ver Kruuda promised to pull a stunt that would flout the ban on outdoor political advertising. Kruuda, a business magnate who controls dairy and chocolate companies, was criticized during the 2005 election for splashing advertisements across Tallinn simply bearing a letter "K" that was remarkably similar to the Center Party's symbol 's also a letter "K."

At the time, Kruuda insisted the posters were advertisements for his "kohuke" dessert snacks, although it was widely believed they were intended as support for the Keskerakond, or Center Party.
The Estonian prosecutor's office investigated the posters on the basis that they were a breach of campaign laws, which prohibit outdoor advertising in the weeks leading up to an election.

In its findings, the office declared that there was no traceable link between Kruuda's kohuke ads and the Center Party.
Prosecutors found that although Kruuda was a known financial supporter of the Center Party, and although the "K" posters replicated the party's own symbol, there was no evidence that the party had been involved in planning the advertisements.
In the wake of the findings, Kruuda has declared that he is planning another campaign stunt.

Last week business journalist Peeter Raidla released a biography on the chocolate king entitled "Oliver Kruuda 's Bad Boy of the Estonian Economy," in which Kruuda insisted he was only larking about by playing with campaign laws.
"We wanted to make a lark with a marketing manager," Kruuda said.
He told Raidla that he found the experience of being prosecuted "fun." He promised to come up with another "lark" in March 2007.

Kruuda's perceived arrogance has angered parliamentarian and Social Democrat member Eiki Nestor, the deputy chairman of the government's anti-corruption committee, the body that asked prosecutors to investigate the sullied campaign.
"We hope that all the parties don't use this document [the prosecutor's report] as a bible on how to break the law and get away with it," Nestor told The Baltic Times. "To find no connection between this advertising program and the Center Party is not very professional on behalf of the prosecutors."

However, he said the anti-corruption committee could take no action to prevent Kruuda from playing similar tricks, as it only had power to investigate the campaign after the election.
With the election scheduled for March 4, outdoor advertising will be banned after all the candidates are registered on Jan. 23.
Analyst Vello Pettai, professor of political science at Tartu University, said the problem may lie in the legislation that prohibits advertising, which was introduced just prior to the 2005 election.

"Once attempts have been made to regulate this sort of thing, it is inevitable that people will try to work out a way of trickstering. It's an effort to flaunt the spirit of the law, although it is unfortunate that if people are against the law they should try to undermine it," Pettai said.