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Archived Articles 10 Mar 2009 Justin PetroneEWR
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The Estonian Social Democratic Party selected a new party leader over the weekend, Jüri Pihl, the sitting Minister of the Interior.

Curious about this development, I decided to read through the comments on Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht about what the average Estonian thinks of Pihl.

In summary, they think his 15-year career in police surveillance in Eesti NSV plus his post-independence role in building up Estonia's Security Police board, Kaitsepolitseiamet or "KAPO" for short, would make him a more fitting head of a politseiriik [police state] party, than the party of Padar and Palo, not that they particularly like those two sotsid either. (Commenters tend to be pretty conservative in their views).

I personally thought Pihl would have suffered politically from the Hermann Simm case, if only because any association with pre-independence Soviet structures, particularly in the police or military, renders one suspicious in Estonian political discourse.

However, I noticed that the issue of Eesti Ekpsress prior to Pihl's ascent to party chair had a lovely story about the 55-year-old Pihl and his wife, 33-year-old prosecutor Lavly Lepp. I have a gut instinct that, for many of Estonia's winning generation, this relationship is reassuring. To them, Pihl is no longer an old mustachioed KAPO director from Kuressaare -- he's a nice guy with a cool wife who, according to some sources, enjoys grilling and talking with friends. They've got it all, in the words of Ekspress, just like Bogart and Bacall.

Pihl also is, for an Estonian, somewhat charismatic and, most importantly, he seems to know what he is doing. The "I know what I am doing" factor goes a long way in politics in any country, and is worth more politically than ideological commitments to a party platform. Even though many Estonian voters perhaps do not think Prime Minister Andrus Ansip knows what he's doing, he has stayed in office since 2005 largely due to his ability to project that he is in charge. Liberalism? Social Democracy? 'Tis but garnish for decisive leadership, sõprad.

I have a feeling the Sotsid who agreed to elevate Pihl to the leadership position felt a similar way. Sure, Pihl's kind of new and he has a shadowy law enforcement past. But nobody wants to mess with him, and he looks like he can win. And what good is a political party with no votes?
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