Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar hit out at the current coalition's lack of political culture and combative stance Saturday, particularly focusing on a plan to define marriage within the constitution, which Saar said was a private matter and not suitable for a constitutional referendum.
Speaking at an SDE party board meeting Saturday, Saar said that: ""One [party] is consistently offending the people of Estonia and picking a row with our allies, attacking the free media and obstructing its work and the work of the opposition in [exposing their] lies and scheming."
While media reports did not name the political party Saar was referring to, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has been charged with doing all of the above since it entered office with Center and Isamaa last year.
"The prime minister is looking on helplessly and clenching his teeth," Saar added, referring to a planned EKRE referendum on the definition of marriage, which it would like to enshrine in the constitution as being between one man and one woman, as a hate referendum.
"As if all this was not enough, out of a fear that the coalition will not hold and upon the desires of the Helmes (finance minister and party leader Martin, and interior minister Mart – ed.), a hate referendum is being planned. A referendum whose purpose is not to seek agreement, common ground and solution, but to create confrontation and frustration," Saar went on.
Speaking at the meeting held in a restaurant garden in Tallinn's Telliskivi district to party faithful, Saar said that the EKRE/Helme-induced political culture in Estonia was alien to the country, and that twinning the marriage referendum with next autumn's local elections would undermine the democratic process with regard to the latter.
"We intend to protect the constitution of Estonia. Fiercely, and with love," Saar added.
The party's board nonetheless says it will not be drawn into the political fight, which it says is senseless and divisive and aimed at mobilizing a portion of the electorate in EKRE's favor.
Former Riigikogu speaker and SDE extended board chair Eiki Nestor said with reference to marriage that: "People will continue to lead their lives as they are doing and the planned referendum would not change that in any fashion."
Party statement: Local elections must not be hijacked by propaganda campaign
An SDE extended board statement on the issue said that: "The local elections must not be stolen with a propaganda campaign which splits the society. Drawing attention away form the real problems of people and communities is irresponsible, and we invite all political parties to abandon this referendum.".
Should the referendum go ahead, SDE urges the electorate to vote "no", assuming the question is posed whether the constitution should be amended to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Indrek Saar was also critical of the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he said had seen a lack of information or clear decision on the requirement for wearing masks, the provision of masks for those at-risk groups who may not have the means to purchase them, and the botching of the new school year in respect of unclear messages about COVID-19, despite the world being wiser about the virus' realities than it was in spring, and passing the buck to local government, schools, parents etc.
Saar also said that the government seemed to have been more interested in big business than society as a whole during the pandemic, which would further deepen societal divides.
Scrapping a bill to facilitate sick pay from day one of a period of illness was evidence of this, Saar said.
Hostility towards agriculture, following the labor crisis during the peak of the harvest season, the government's approach to forestry, care homes, research and development and climate were all additionally issues the coalition had neglected, Saar said.
The sacking of former IT minister Kaimar Karu, not an EKRE member but brought in by them late last year from an IT sector background in London, had been followed by a stalling in digital turnaround as well, Saar said.
SDE was in office with Center and Isamaa from late 2016 to spring of 2019, and is now in opposition. It has 10 seats at the 101-seat Riigikogu. It also has two MEPs, Marina Kaljurand and Sven Mikser.
Indrek Saar, a well-known actor of stage and the small screen, became leader last summer.
Editor: Andrew Whyte