While the Center Party and Isamaa promised to make a normal political force out of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) when they included the latter in the government in 2019, the outgoing year is a clear indication that they have not managed to deliver and are instead increasingly at odds with the rest of society alongside the national conservatives, former head of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) Jevgeni Ossinovski said as a guest of the "Samost and Sildam" talk show on Vikerraadio.
"There was quite a lot of talk in early 2019 [right after Riigikogu elections] about Isamaa and Center trying to clean up EKRE, while it now seems they have all barricaded themselves against the rest of society. [Center Party chairman, PM] Jüri Ratas who initially promised to turn them into real people has increasingly been sinking with them instead," Ossinovski said.
One logical outcome of this is "mutiny" over at Isamaa – the Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) in-house group that is openly setting itself in contrast to Isamaa's current heading, Ossinovski added.
The SDE politician agreed with host Toomas Sildam in terms of the whole of Estonian politics revolving around EKRE. "Yes, that is how this type of politics works. From Donald Trump to AfD in Germany, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and the True Finns – they all have the same modus operandi. One simply needs to hijack all the attention by way of provocative brutishness or outright foolery. It is only natural they have failed to solve a single problem," Ossinovski said.
Commenting on EKRE's mid-year change of leadership that saw Martin Helme become chairman in place of his father Mart, Ossinovski found that he believed the party's rating would suffer as a result, which it has according to recent polls. "There were those who suggested EKRE's popularity would grow after the change and reach 25 percent or thereabouts. My belief was the opposite. It is important for the voter to be able to identify with the people they vote for, and that was easier in Mart's case. Martin's more refined style isn't as clear and could hurt EKRE's voter base," Ossinovski said.
Asked by host Anvar Samost whether EKRE voters should also be deterred by the fact the party has no achievements to boast of and its revolving door of ministers, Ossinovski remarked that criticizing the government from the opposition and being a member of one are two very different things.
"Around 20-30 percent of people will always vote against the incumbent government and for the most credible alternative. Some people can be mobilized through their promises and accusations, but not everyone," he said, adding that the non-parliamentary Estonia 200 seems to have become the number one choice of the dissatisfied today.
Ossinovski remained skeptical in terms of whether the coalition's inability to get the Riigikogu behind the marriage referendum could lead to the government falling apart next year. That said, there will be local government council and presidential elections in 2021, meaning that surprises are possible, the leading SDE politician offered.
Ossinovski said that while it is possible the coalition will be able to agree on a common presidential candidate, a coalition politician would likely not receive enough votes in the Riigikogu or the Electoral College.
He also found that even should Center lose its hegemony in the capital after local elections, there will not be a grand coalition against the centrists and the latter will simply pick a coalition partner.
Talking about the coronavirus, Ossinovski commended the government for efforts in spring but criticized the handling of the second wave this fall, saying that messages chronically come too late and fail to explain the necessity of measures.
Editor: Marcus Turovski