Indrek Kiisler: EKRE knows to take people by the hand

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Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) has an uncanny ability to gauge and capitalize on moods in society. Other parties, especially the Social Democrats and Isamaa, have a lot to learn from this.

A spontaneous nationwide protest was held on March 20 that saw people drive around in convoys. Various demands were made, some of which were and remained wholly unclear. It only took a few hours for social media to be filled with sneering comments by non-EKRE politicians. Protesters were referred to as flat-earthers, Kremlin trolls and simple fools. Base people with whom those who have an education (and a regular income) do not associate.

It made me wonder at, for example, the Social Democrats' inability to realize that many of these protesters are simple people caught in the gears because of the coronavirus crisis. People who have lost their jobs, been forced to close their business or cannot travel to work in Finland. Many are tired of restrictions. Many are having trouble curating their children's remote learning.

Such a situation is fertile ground for radicalization.

Many active protesters are people with very real concerns who expected their state the come to their aid and support them. Because they are not happy with the government's handling of the situation, they naturally look to the opposition. EKRE wasted no time addressing the dissatisfied, relying on their traditionally rough and rowdy political approach.

What did the Social Democrats do? Rather, members of the party took one scornful look at the protests from behind the closed gate of Toompea Castle and returned to business as usual as if nothing had happened.

In truth, Estonia's only left-wing party has been pushing away its voters for some time now. Downcast moods are becoming more common every day. But the people who drove around on March 20 or gathered in Freedom Square more recently form only a marginal part of the dissatisfied. Finding the majority takes time and the ability to speak their language. The latter cannot be learned through countertrolling and arrogance.

Unfortunately, the Social Democrats have increasingly become an example of an encapsulated party or rather a club, members of which seem to believe that it is enough to make cosmetic amendment proposals in Riigikogu committees and from the lectern.

They remain in line even in the parliament. For example, while EKRE is capable of quickly staging a spectacle of blocking draft legislation in the Riigikogu, the Social Democrats remain silent, timid and polite. Their MPs are nice people without exception, while their voters find them to be useless – because it is so difficult to pinpoint who they represent, as reflected in the party's consistently modest rating.

The Isamaa party seems to sport a similar attitude to potential voters and be on the road to becoming an exclusive club, members of which have little to no outside communication. Allow me to give an example. Party leader Helir-Valdor Seeder was visibly aggrieved when I asked him about in-house conflicts after Isamaa's Tuesday council meeting. As if the meeting was more a frat house beer party where strangers have no business. Seeder criticized the press for meddling in the party's internal affairs.

While EKRE's advantage is hardly decisive, haughty attitudes sported by other political forces will prove costly at one point. [EKRE chairman] Martin Helme has toned down his rhetoric and is becoming palatable to an increasingly big part of the electorate.

It is only natural that voters are beginning to tire of the new Reform Party government. And with mounting financial difficulties and pressure from restrictions, it will be little wonder if EKRE manages to catch up to Reform in the polls by fall.

The national conservatives are moving into local government council elections in the shape of their life. The party is keeping fit by carefully gauging moods in society and actively staying in touch with potential voters.

The Estonian political landscape needs a left-wing party and a more moderate national force, while that would require the Social Democrats and Isamaa to put an end to their exclusive club activities.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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