It was a wild ride. For those who missed it, last night was the ERR-hosted independent candidates' debate - 13 individuals with extremely divergent views and agendas.
At times seeming to strain the limits of the format, the ambitious undertaking was nothing if not lively, with an only lightly-moderated live blog running side by side with the video stream.
Besides the inherent difficulty in boiling so many apples and oranges down into a proper contest of views and the fact that some of the individual candidates were less TV ready than others, moderators had to contend with language difficulties. Estonian law mandates that English-language TV content must be subtitled or otherwise translated. The European Whistleblowers Party's Joeri Wiersma took the tack of attempting to defy the rule and speaking in English anyway, while Lance Boxall canceled, but, perhaps befitting his IT-heavy platform, popped up on the live blog in the late stages.
Apparently losing patience with Wiersma, the moderator asked him to reply with one word, "yes" or "no," on whether Ukraine should be part of NATO, but Wiersma did not understand the question and was cut off.
However, native Russian speakers seemed to be comfortable speaking Estonian. "It's congenial to see how well the non-Estonians speak the official language," said ERR online news director Alo Raun on the live blog. "That in itself is a sign of integration."
The ERR experts, consisting of Tallinn University political scientists Tõnis Saarts and Catlyn Kirna, the Estonian Debate Society's Margo Loor and Kai Klandorf and ERR journalists Rain Kooli and Marju Himma, gave Silver Meikar, former Reform Party MP who turned against the party's financing practices, the highest average rating, 4.7, followed by MEP Kristiina Ojuland at 4.0. MEP Indrek Tarand was third with 3.2.
Saarts said: "Meikar was the only one who was memorable with clear and substantive positions. He had a specific range of issues he focused on: enlargement and information freedom. It is arguable whether they are today the top priority in Europe. But there was some important point to each one that he managed to make heard in the short time he was allotted."
Kooli dissented: "To my surprise, I have to say that Ojuland was the most professional, clear and best prepared. TV debate is an unmerciful format and thus her experience in public speaking helps her. Tarand has it as well, but he seemed to be phoning it in. Meikar was rhetorically skilful but occasionally stumbled."
Correction: Silver Meikar, although often referred to as a whistle-blower, is the Pirate Party's candidate; Wiersma is from the European Whistleblowers Party.