Weekly: Ex-presidential office chief joins Eesti 200

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Tiit Riisalo.
Tiit Riisalo. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A former presidential office chief, dubbed the 'vice president' – of Estonia, which has no vice presidential post – has joined Eesti 200 ahead of next year's Riigikogu elections, Eesti Ekspress reports. The adviser, Tiit Riisalo, said the party was the only one he had looked at, adding that his former boss ought to go into domestic politics also.

Riisalo, during his time as director of Kersti Kaljulaid's office, personally met two U.S. Presidents – current incumbent Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump – as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis, and is now throwing his hat in the domestic politics ring, he says, picking Eesti 200 as the "most likeable of the parties currently on the political scene", Eesti Ekspress reported in a long interview (link in Estonian).

Riisalo says he rules out running for any other party, though he is a former secretary general of IRL – now Isamaa – and ran the party's campaign in Tallinn in the 2013 local elections.

Much of the Eesti Ekspress interview focused on his former role, and the necessity of meeting with Putin.

"In comparison with Finland, our relations with Russia are too politically charged, and as a result, it has not really been viable to move forward, even in those simpler things that could bring us closer," Riisalo said, citing transport links as an example of one of the simpler issues.

Riisalo also suggested his former boss, former president Kaljulaid, who left office in August last year, fulfil speculation that she might be involved in the cut-and-thrust  of Riigikogu and Stenbock House politics, not due to her experience, but if fact as a potential breath of fresh air.

Her well publicized clashes with the government of the day, at least once the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition entered office, were accompanied by a championing of freedoms of choice and identity, characterized by, Riisalo said, the slogan which adorned Kaljulaid's sweatshirt when that coalition took its Riigikogu oath: "Sõna on vaba" (literally "the word is free" and a play on an earlier EKRE slogan; "speech is free" is an alternative translation - ed.).

"Of course, the word must be free – what, otherwise, would be the point of a republic," he said.

As to her one-term legacy, marked as it was by much international networking and being linked with top international jobs such say the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) boss: "It would be more equitable for the assessment to be made by bystanders, and even then perhaps only after a time passes, but I believe that Kaljulaid was successful, both inside and outside Estonia."

Riisalo's health is seemingly up to the rigors of politics in any case – he said that in NATO's fitness test he places himself in the youngest (below 30) age group, despite being 54 years of age himself, though: " I don't get the maximum points ... because I can no longer run 3,200 meters (two miles) in 12 minutes," (which may refer instead to the United States Army Physical Fitness Test, where the max score allow 13 minutes to complete the distance - ed.).

The original Eesti Ekspress piece (in Estonian) is here.

Eesti 200 has no Riigikogu seats at present, having narrowly missed out at the last general election in March 2019. The party was founded the preceding year, and won its first seats at the local elections last October. It espouses a socially liberal platform and is likely to tempt voters over from the Reform Party perhaps more than any other.

The party also ran four foreign national EU citizens as candidates in Tallinn and Tartu in the October 2021 local elections, permissible under Estonian electoral law.

Eesti 200 leader: Riisalo will be no ordinary candidate

The party's leader, Kristina Kallas, also spoke to ERR Wednesday, following publication of the Eesti Ekspress piece.

Kallas confirmed Riisalo's having joined Eesti 200 and said that he would be no ordinary party member, but would play a lead role in its election campaign in the 2023 Riigikogu election, and would be on course for a leadership role in the party itself after the election was over.

She said: "We have told him that he will join our team after the Riigikogu elections. His exact title has not yet been hammered out, as a more precise agreement is yet to be concluded."

"He has said that Estonia wants to get involved in the Eesti 200 elections before the next Riigikogu elections, and it is up to him to decide how much responsibility he will take," she continued.

Eesti 200 leader Kristina Kallas. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

"I is clear that he does not just want to be a member of the party list. We will set up a team to prepare for the Riigikogu elections next week," Kallas went on.

Kallas also said that if Kersti Kaljulaid were also to join Eesti 200, there was every possibility of her being its prime ministerial candidate, even if Kallas stayed on as party leader.

"Kersti Kaljulaid has to decide herself and speak for herself. She has certainly been invited and talked about it, but she says if and when, herself," Kallas continued.

The party's 2023 campaign, as noted for the second Riigikogu election it will contest, starts next week, Kallas added.

"It is now clear that we will start campaigning for the Riigikogu elections next week, so noone need wait any longer for that," Kallas added.

Much earlier in her career, Kersti Kaljulaid worked as an advisor to Mart Laar, who had two stints as prime minister between 1992 and 2002, with the Pro Patria Union – again a forerunner to the present-day Isamaa.

Riisalo: I will initially be a volunteer with Eesti 200

Riisalo told ERR on Thursday that he will work for Eesti 200 on a voluntary basis, and in the meantime continue his regular day job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Riisalo is also a member of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) Investment Fund supervisory board. The 3SI focuses on infrastructure projects and their investments, primarily in the transport, digital, energy and environmental areas, and in Central and Eastern European countries, from Estonia, in the North, to Bulgaria, in the South.

Kersti Kaljulaid hosted a 3SI summit in Tallinn in October 2020, while still president.

This article was updated to include statements made to ERR by Tiit Riisalo.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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