Journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam analyzed how major parties have changed in recent years in their Sunday talk show that will be Sildam's last before he takes up the post of incoming President Alar Karis' internal affairs adviser.
The journalists started their analysis from May of 2018 when Sildam joined the talk show, with the period including 2019 Riigikogu elections. It is a period during which all current political accents and persons relevant today have "taken to the stage, grown or shrunk and assumed their positions," Samost said.
Sildam recalled that Center leader Jüri Ratas' government that included the Social Democrats and Isamaa was in power, the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) had seven and the now dissolved Free Party eight seats in the Riigikogu in 2018.
Change in EKRE fueled by hope of making the government
Samost said that EKRE has been one of the most significant parties of recent election cycles, representing several trends. He said that taking 19 seats at the 2019 elections was just as shocking for EKRE as it was for everyone else, which also reflected in their program.
Sildam noted that EKRE have become "far calmer" ahead of the 2021 local elections.
Samost also pointed to its change of chairman last fall when Martin Helme took over from his father Mart Helme. If the latter concentrated on sending strong and controversial messages, EKRE soon realized this would accomplish precious little, Samost said. "The EKRE of today seems to be concentrating on two things, in addition to putting in a solid election result and representing its voters. First, they seem to be concentrating on expanding their voter base, which, looking at their support rating, seems to be going quite well. Secondly, it seems to me, they want to be able to realize their political goals in the real world should they get the opportunity to join a government again."
Sildam gave the example of EKRE election slogans, with "Anname tuld!" ("Fire on them!") in 2019 giving way to "Me armastame Eestit" ("We love Estonia") in 2021.
Samost also said that while EKRE was not "exactly a fan of personal freedoms" as a government partner, the party is now fighting for greater autonomy and personal freedoms under Martin Helme. "That has likely brought them the most new supporters," he offered.
Sildam said EKRE realize they have a shot at making the government again after 2023 Riigikogu elections.
Reform Party as an echo of state officials
Samost said that the [ruling] Reform Party was in a difficult situation already following the 2016 presidential election when an in-house crisis caused it to switch chairmen on several occasions until current PM Kaja Kallas took over.
"I feel that Reform has increasingly become the party of the elite and of Tallinn. I often feel, when I hear a Reform Party member speak, that I'm listening to a high-ranking state official who has planted these ideas in the politician's head. EKRE is the exact opposite of that, never using those kinds of words, phrases and ideas, probably quite consciously," Samost said. The Reform Party is much more a part of the Estonian state apparatus than any of its competitors, he added.
Sildam suggested that Reform, after having been sent to the opposition by Jüri Ratas in 2016, was still resigned to stay there until March 2023 when Ratas resigned in 2021, giving Kallas the opportunity to become PM. Making the government in January of this year was just as surprising for Reform than EKRE's success in 2019 was for them, the host said.
Both journalists suggested that Reform's surprise was also reflected in the party returning to its dogmatic stances on fiscal balance and austerity immediately after coming to power.
Center with a support base problem
Samost described the Center Party's outlook as increasingly "doubtful and pale" despite its position in the government. Local elections on October 17 will prove decisive for Center, he suggested.
"But even should Center put in a more or less satisfactory result, the question of credible leaders who could captivate the popular party's entire constituency, ranging from Narva pensioners to Saaremaa or Viljandi schoolteachers, which the party has managed in the past, remains," he said.
Sildam said that Center last pulled it off in the opposition. When it was what people having a hard time and finding the state does not care about them had in common. They cannot rely on the same rhetoric in the government, Sildam said.
The hosts also talked about local government council elections to span from next Monday to Sunday.
Editor: Marcus Turovski