Opposition party Isamaa is postponing its general assembly this year amid a continuing divide between the party's official mainstream and its Parempoolsed ("Right wingers") faction, ostensibly due to coronavirus restrictions preventing large gatherings. This means the party's elected board term will be prolonged by one year.
The party's board made the decision to put back the general assembly till after October's local elections, ERR reports. The Right Wingers – a misleading title in that the group broadly espouses a more socially liberal platform – are unhappy with the decision, saying it harms the party's chances at the polls.
The Right Wingers had also wanted to put up their own candidate for chair at the assembly, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday evening.
The party says it wants to hold any assembly physically and in person, something the current coronavirus restrictions forbids, rather than remotely and on-line.
Isamaa leader: Only a temporary prolonging
Party chair and former deputy Riigikogu speaker Helir-Valdor Seeder says that the move, which would extend the party's leadership period, was a temporary measure, and an ideal situation would have seen the party leader and deputies elected before the local elections.
Seeder said Wednesday that: discussions were needed: "To discuss in depth what the political trends in the future for Isamaa are, and in which direction must the party develop - so that these discussions can take place as early as possible, and before the local elections."
Seeder added that if COVID-19 restrictions continued as they are, to the extent that the assembly could not be held before September, then there was no reason to hold it before the local elections.
Isamaa wants to hold assembly in person rather than remotely
The current restrictions regime is set to expire on April 25, while the Health Board (Terviseamet) recently said that regulations should not be eased before May at the earliest.
The decision to extend the term of the party's board by a year and to stick to the plan of having an in-person general assembly, after the local elections if necessary, followed a five-hour meeting Tuesday.
Priit Värk , a member of the Right Wingers' faction's board, said, however, that the party, which found itself in opposition in January following the collapse of the coalition with Center and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), does not have the luxury of being able to wait.
Värk told BNS that: "The decision of the council of Isamaa yesterday (Tuesday) to extend the term of office of the party board was as expected. The leadership of the party wants to maintain the current situation, and is not interested in change, because they have no plan on how to bring Isamaa back on the rise. Unfortunately, support for the party and membership cannot be increased without a clear plan."
Right wingers' spokesperson: A united front needed for October
A united front would be needed come the local elections in October, Värk went on, adding he believed the Right Wingers' platform was the best one and was more representative of where the party is currently at.
The Right Wingers group also says it will introduce its platform at Isamaa local branch level, and continue pressing the issue of a general assembly ahead of, rather than after, the local elections.
Isamaa has recently polled at only a little over the 5 percent threshold in opinion polls. Fewer than 5 percent of votes in an electoral district under Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation translates to no seats in that district whatsoever.
However, the party was polling at similar levels in the months leading up to the March 2019 general election, when it was also rebranded Isamaa (from IRL), and still won 12 seats and reentered office with Center and EKRE, holding some of the choicest ministerial seats (including foreign, defense and justice) of them all.
The party has one MEP, Riho Terras, a former defense forces chief who bagged a seat as the result of the number of MEP seats allocated to Estonia rising to seven (from six), after some of the U.K.'s former seats were redistributed among the EU27, as a result of Brexit.
The local elections take place on October 17 as things stand. The legality of delaying election day if the coronavirus situation merits it (as recently happened in Finland) is not entirely clear.
Editor: Andrew Whyte