Laar to hand over the reins

  • 2011-09-21
  • By Karoliina Raudsepp

NO FEAR: For the good of the country, Mart Laar says he won’t run again for the party leadership.

TARTU - In a speech held at Tallinn’s Freedom Square to commemorate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Baltic Way, Mart Laar said that “Estonia has to live without fear. History shows that we must live with bravery and hold our backs straight as a people.” He now seems to be following his own advice. Last Thursday he sent a letter to his party, the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, and announced that he will not run for the leadership position again.

In his letter, published by Postimees, he explains that he believes it is time for change and that his decision is not only good for the party, but for Estonia in general. He clarifies that stalling on this decision would have hurt the party. “This is the best time for a new leader to step into office. The party is in a good state, the next election is some time away. This creates a good foundation for the new leader to start work.”

Laar has served in Estonian politics for decades, from the years before independence fighting against the Soviet order by reminding Estonians about their history, through being a prime minister, from 1992-1994, to being a coalition partner on several occasions. In his letter he says that “in politics, there is a time to come and to go. A smart politician does it when no one is pressurizing them to go, quite the contrary. I have filled my promises – we increased our representation in parliament; we are in government and working on filling the promises given to the electorate.” Over the last week, Laar has made clear that he does not intend to leave politics and hopes to continue as the Minister of Defense after the Party Congress, to be held in a few months.

This has understandably caused policy circles to start discussing who will take over the divided party. In an interview to ERR News Portal, the ex-Minister of Education Tonis Lukas, for example, said that the leader will most likely come from the “jackets” side of the party, and he kept referring to the party as only Res Publica, to highlight who is now in charge. Other candidates who have been mentioned are the current Speaker Ene Ergma (which would mean a woman could rise to the helm of a major party in Estonia for the first time), and the Minister of Education Jaak Aaviksoo. Some have also mentioned that the political showman Indrek Tarand could try to enter Estonian big politics again.

The Party Congress is currently scheduled for Jan. 28, 2012. Laar has been the leader of the party since May 2007. He was a member of the Estonian Congress before 1991 and has been a member of all the sessions of parliament since the adoption of the Estonian Constitution in 1992. In 1998-2002 he was the leader of the predecessor of the current party, the Pro Patria Union.

He is internationally renowned for his work as prime minister, for rapid and ruthless reforms that laid the foundation for Estonian economic successes, as well as tackled corruption and fiscal issues. He is a strong supporter of the economist Milton Friedman and an enthusiast of the flat tax rate. He followed Friedman’s doctrines in the face of international pressures not to, and he proved himself right. In 2006, he was awarded the Milton Friedman prize for advancing freedom by the Cato Institute in recognition of his work. He has been Minister of Defense since the general election earlier this year.