'Otse uudistemajast': EKRE manipulating protests better than other parties

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From left, Anvar Samost, Tõnis Stamberg and Urmet Kook on a previous edition of 'Otse uudistemajast'. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

ERR's weekly politics discussion show "Otse uudistemajast" looked at the recent growth in support for the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), noting that while recent protests were definitely relevant, they were not the whole picture.

Head of News and Sport at ERR, Anvar Samost, said that the recent rise in support for EKRE, as reported by pollsters Turu-uuringute and one which puts the party in second place, behind Reform and ahead of Center, was not really at the expense of any one particular party, and had more to do with EKRE's tactics.

With reference to recent anti-lockdown/anti-police powers protests in central Tallinn, Samost said that participants: "Fell across the spectrum of parties."

Center's support has fallen in the past month, according to Turu-uuringute, but only a little, while Reform's has risen by a similarly small margin. Meanwhile, opposition parties Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), broadly occupying different ends of the political spectrum, have seen their support fall to close to the threshold needed for Riigikogu seats, while the non-parliamentary Eesti 200 party, early on in the year riding a wave of support, has also been in freefall.

Only EKRE has seen recent gains, and this has generally been postulated as the result of its being the only party taking a clear stance on the side of the protesters; the party's sole MEP was recently relieved of his post as an auxiliary police operative as the result of statements made about gun ownership and the need to resist any legislative changes which would affect legal gun owners.

Turu-uuringute's Tõnis Stamberg noted that many people who usually do not vote EKRE have found themselves on the same side.

"The [recent] poll took place during the demonstrations and so was definitely affected by it. The topic of these gatherings also gained momentum on social media. EKRE has thus been able to mobilize a fairly large number of people," Stamberg said, adding that attendees mainly wanted to blow off steam at time when bankruptcies and unemployment are looming or have already arrived.

Anvar Samost cautioned on going too far down this route however; green shoots of recovery are joining the literal green shoots as the spring weather continues to warm up, he said. An economic improvement and concomitant fall in societal dissatisfaction would harm EKRE, he went on, while it would benefit the coalition Reform Party and some other parties.

There has also been a sea change within EKRE following Martin Helme succeeding his father as leader; in addition to the party attracting, at least temporarily, a broader range of supporters than it historically had done (the party is also second-most popular among Russian-speaking voters, Turu-uuringute says – ed.), it has also come of age somewhat, and picked up some real parliamentary and political tactics, Samost said.

"This has clearly been the case of very well-managed tactical behavior, where there was somewhat less old EKRE in evidence," he said.

The party had also found ways of using its leverage on the two coalition parties, Center and Reform, without breaking the thermometer altogether, he said – actions one might have in the past expected from the more seasoned Social Democrats, or Reform itself, Samost noted.

When asked by head of ERR portals Urmet Kook why Isamaa had not done the same, Samost said that a current internal divide was the main factor.

Isamaa has not demonstrated an ability to relate to those on the streets, either, he added, with perhaps EKRE now being the best at adapting itself to popular moods.

"Unfortunately, EKRE is perhaps the only party out of all of them that has this kind of natural valve," Samost said.

Tõnis Stamberg added that EKRE seemed to be the most effective social media influencers at present.

The recent protests were ostensibly aimed at legislative changes which would grant the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) more powers in enforcing coronavirus restrictions and, in something of an apparent self-fulfilling prophecy, led to minor, non-violent clashes between protestors and the PPA over which the latter have been accused of heavy-handedness.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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