'Otse uudistemajast': Reform support boosted by defense and security stance

Kaja Kallas with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Kaja Kallas with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Reform Party's recent revitalization in support levels – from 19 percent at the start of the year to 26 percent this month, according to one market research firm – is mostly the result of its early, firm position on security issues following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to panelists on a special "Otse uudistemajast" webcast shown on Thursday.

Anvar Samost, ERR's head of news and sport and appearing on the show, said the current security crisis has boosted domestic support for many leaders, incuding U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

While this effect has been passed on to Kallas as well, the question on where Russian-speaking voters in Estonia stand, in the wake of the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine, which began over three weeks ago.

Both Samost and ERR head of portals Urmet Kook, also appearing on "Otse uudistemajast", said they felt the Russian demographic in Estonia has not alternative party to vote for, other than Center.

At the same time, it was surprising that, at least according to the recent Kantar Emor ratings, Center's large number of Russian-speaking supporters do not seem to have abandoned the party after its leader, Jüri Ratas, made various statements supporting Ukraine.

Urmet Kook noted the war has been an eye-opener for Russian-speaking minorities, not only in Estonia but also in Ukraine itself.

"The bombing of Kharkiv shows that the Russian-speaking population will not be spared." he said. Around one-third of the eastern Ukrainian city's population is Russian-speaking. It has also been the scene of some of the fiercest and most destructive fighting since the war began on February 24.

Aivar Voog, Kantar Emor, also appearing on the show, said that the war and the ensuing security crisis has caused confusion for Russian-speaking Center voters.

For other parties, the war has been a topic distinct from others, Samost said.

The Reform Party positioned itself relatively early on, on security issues," he noted.

Kook drew a parallel with the 2007 Bronze Soldier riots, when Reform, in office at the time under Andrus Ansip, also saw its support increase.

Kaja Kallas biggest critic is at the moment Jüri Ratas, Samost noted.

Whether Reform's support could rise further and reach the 30-percent mark might be tempered by the rising number of refugees fleeing the Ukraine war and arriving in Estonia; Voog suggested it could lead to tensions and muddy the waters regarding Reform's support level rise.

While he public has a high level of interest in the war, Samost said: "At the same time, it can be observed that other issues are already attracting public attention."

The non-parliamentary Eesti 200 has seen a fall in support, from 21 percent to 19 percent, but remains in second place.

Meanwhile, the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which enjoyed a rise in support through the second half of 2021 and into the beginning of 2022, is now seeing that support fall.

Urmet Kook stated that this could be partly because at present it is difficult to oppose a coalition preoccupied with the defense and security situation.

He said: "In a situation where EKRE cannot clearly oppose the government's leading parties, a decline in their support is logical."

Aivar Voog agreed, stressing that if unity is the order of the day, EKRE opposing the government would not be logical.

For Isamaa, in opposition and a party which recently expelled a dissident faction , internal tensions have not yet translated to support levels yet, though Voog said, it is close to its nadir.

If the expelled group – the "Parempoolsed" ("Right wingers") set up their own party, would they be able to reach and pass the 5-percent threshold needed to win seats, under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation, at the next election in March 2023, Kook asked.

Alternatively, would they simply take sufficient votes from Isamaa to ensure that both parties failed to cross the threshold, Kook enquired.

Voog's answer was that: "More likely, the Parempoolsed would compete with the Reform Party and Eesti 200. I do not see a possibility they would take voters from Isamaa," an opinion which Samost shared.

Despite their name, the Parempoolsed are largely liberal on social issues.

The latest Kantar Emor survey showed that Reform's support had risen from 19 percent in January, to 20 percent in February and now to 26 percent this month.

EKRE, on 17.7 percent, has slightly dipped behind Center, on 18.1 percent, now; the position had earlier been the opposite.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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