Mart Helme: Martin is a better politician than I am

Martin and Mart Helme (EKRE).
Martin and Mart Helme (EKRE). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Mart Helme says that his son, Martin, is the better politician. The younger Helme looks set to take over the reins of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), after Mart Helme, who is also interior minister, announced Saturday he would not seek reelection at the party congress on July 4.

"I'm pretty sure Martin is a more politically and tactically savvy man than I am," Helme told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Saturday night.

"I am for sure, as had been said about an English king (Edward I, 1272-1307 – ed.) that he was the 'Hammer of the Scots' equally as hard a hammer, but maybe tactical nuances are sometimes overlooked [by me]," Helme went on.

"Martin is certainly a better politician than I am, but in terms of being a strategic ideologue, I may be a little stronger than him, again," Helme continued, in his evaluation of his own and his son's abilities.

Mart Helme also said that he tended a little more towards authoritarianism, than Martin, the current party vice chair, and also finance minister.

No other candidate has been proposed for the post, making Martin de facto leader in waiting if things stay as they are.

Martin Helme, the son, himself took to the airwaves earlier Saturday, also on AK, when he said that a president more amenable to all coalition parties would be needed in preference to current incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid, adding that Mart would fit the bill.

The presidential elections, which are not direct but start off with rounds of ballots at the Riigikogu; take place from summer next year, with both the local elections and a referendum on whether and how to define marriage as an amendment to the Estonian constitution following in October 2021.

"As Martin also said in an interview, we essentially have an agreement within the current coalition that we are trying to find a common candidate," Helme continued on AK.

"And, as I said in my interview, I am somewhat of a character, and perhaps a polarizing figure, so maybe I am not very suitable in the eyes of other coalition partners. But if things develop along those lines, we'll see."

Long-running tussles with president's office

President Kersti Kaljulaid has returned several government bills or legal amendments citing conflict with the Estonian constitution, principally section 12, which deals with equal rights.

Kaljulaid is within her own constitutional right and role to do so; if returned legislation does not get amended at the Riigikogu, it can be challenged at the Supreme Court, with the Chancellor of Justice representing the state. This happened last summer over a bill slashing alcohol excise duties - the government prevailed in that judgment – and is due to occur again in August when the top court hears the case against the pensions reform bill.

The president's critics within the coalition, including Martin Helme and currently also foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, say that she is overstepping her bounds. The latest bill to be returned deals with the regulation of Estonia's diplomatic corps, and the president questioned amendments which she said would treat legally married spouses of diplomats differently from those who are partners in the understanding of the Registered Partnership Act.

In the rest of the interview, Helme said that he and his son certainly do not agree on everything and have argued in the past, and that his decision to step down had nothing to do with either his physical or mental health, both of which he said were sound, and that he would continue in politics, most likely swapping places with his son and becoming vice chair of the party.

Earlier on Saturday, Mart Helme said that it was time for someone new at the helm, having led EKRE, which has 19 MPs and one MEP, since it was founded in 2012.

Mart Helme's tenure as interior minister has been accompanied by several outspoken episodes, including unilaterally trying to remove police chief Elmar Vaher, claiming that Estonia was preparing an alternative plan to NATO membership, and referring to Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin as a 'salesgirl'. He faced a vote of no-confidence brought by the opposition Reform Party last December, which he survived.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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