Perling and Seeder debate party future ahead of Isamaa chairman elections

Isamaa chairman candidate Lavly Perling and her opponent, current leader Helir-Valdor Seeder held a public debate on Tuesday, with conservative worldview, Isamaa's low rating, future and goals making up the agenda.

Debate moderator, journalist Mikk Salu immediately brought Isamaa competitor the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) into play, asking both candidates how they feel about comparisons between EKRE and Isamaa. Seeder said that while EKRE can be described as conservative, whether it's also national remains questionable. Seeder described Isamaa as national-conservative and said that setting Isamaa apart from EKRE are views on statehood, security policy, international politics, language and economic topics.

Asked whether Perling would rule out a coalition with EKRE as Isamaa leader, the former prosecutor general said she would not form a coalition with a political force acting against the Estonian legal system and security, dismantling institutions and causing people to fall out. Perling added that she is not ruling anything out in the long perspective.

The marriage referendum topic sparked a somewhat longer exchange. Perling said that for her, conservatism also means that the state meddles in the economy and people's lives as little as possible, as people are smart enough to make their own decisions. "The state has no business in people's bedrooms, while a family is certainly a value," Perling said.

Seeder maintained that marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman should be protected on the level of the Constitution, which policy Isamaa has pursued under his stewardship. Seeder opined that family as an institution is not solely a personal matter, giving the example of domestic violence. He finds the Registered Partnership Act to be crossing a line into the private sphere and described it as peculiar when liberal parties support this level of meddling.

Both chairman candidates said, when commenting on Isamaa's modest support rating, that performance in the polls is not a goal in itself. Seeder found that achievements are more important, giving the example of election promises Isamaa kept in the previous government, as well as the good work done by the party's ministers. Perling also said that while the rating is not a separate goal, it is a consequence and reflects people's judgment of the party. According to Perling, Isamaa has not lost voters to EKRE but rather to Eesti 200 and the Reform Party, and that efforts need to be made to bring them back. Neither provided any detailed recipes for winning back voters during the debate.

Regarding the pension reform carried out under Seeder, Perling said that while she believes a person should be free to decide how to use their money, she would not go into the details and implementing provisions of the reform.

When Mikk Salu suggested that some Isamaa members who have fallen out with the central office fear reprisals should Seeder be reelected, the chairman said that evicting members and people who feel differently has never been a goal. However, he added that eviction is in store for those who systematically damage the party's reputation, such as Madis Sütt who promised to bring Isamaa hundreds of new members by resorting to inappropriate measures. Asked whether the opposing Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) camp is deliberately damaging Isamaa's reputation, Seeder said that time will tell.

Seeder and Perling presented different visions of Isamaa as a party. If Seeder tends to support a more focused approach and finds that trying to expand on its traditional voter base caused the party to move away from core voters, Perling is a proponent of a broad-based Isamaa. She added that Isamaa must be funded transparently, not by just one or two businessmen.

The Isamaa general assembly will be held at the Tartu Song Festival Grounds on June 20.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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