Support for the opposition Center Party falling to its lowest level on record is caused by the protest vote moving behind the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Russian-speaking voters' bewilderment, MEP Yana Toom suggested.
"I believe that the Center Party is a cross section of society, and society being split is reflected in the party. The confusion caused by the Ukraine war is one aspect – in terms of Russian voters. The other is that the quintessential protest voter has likely moved behind EKRE," Toom said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show on Thursday.
The MEP also suggested that a lot of voters currently do not know who to vote for, with the undecided part of Russian respondents at 28 percent.
She said that the reason is not anything Center has left undone. "I believe it is natural development – what goes up must also come down at some point before starting to grow again. We are making efforts to that end. I cannot highlight any fatal political mistakes. It is clear that corruption and other scandals are not helping. But it is the natural course of events that we just need to weather and learn from," Toom said.
Asked whether replacing party chairman Jüri Ratas would change matters, Toom suggested it would.
"It would change them for the worse. Ratas is a team player and a good leader, even though he isn't as striking as some others. The Center Party is the largest in Estonia and difficult to keep together. It is not a power vertical, like what Putin or the Helmes (EKRE leaders Martin and Mart Helme – ed.) have.
Talking about why protest voters have left Center, Toom suggested that they have gone where messages are the loudest. She gave the example of former U.S. President Donald Trump who managed to get people who had not voted before to turn out and vote for him.
The MEP said that Estonia sports massive social inequality and the fastest inflation in the Eurozone, which is why it is no wonder that people are dissatisfied.
"People who live hand to mouth do not vote for the Reform Party. There are politicians who have no idea how ordinary people live," she remarked.
Toom believes that Estonia needs a tax debate going into parliamentary elections, while security topics take precedence because of Russia's war.
She also criticized other parties for adding to tensions, starting with Isamaa that's using the switch to teaching in Estonian as its pre-election manifesto. The MEP said that while Isamaa's talking points are aimed at domestic political struggle, they have an effect on the Russian community.
While the government was initially capable of keeping its messages separate –differentiate between the Putin regime that unleashed the war and Estonia's own Russians – the distinction has now disappeared, Toom suggested.
She gave the example of (former Reform Party leader and PM – ed.) Andrus Ansip talking about the internment of the Japanese in the U.S. in 1942.
Commenting on EKRE deputy head Mart Helme's recent statements, Toom found that it is Helme senior's role to test the waters – say peculiar things to give other members of the party the chance to disagree. "His statements are constantly broadening the playing field," Toom offered.
At the same time, what Estonians are being told about Russians often doesn't make it to the Russian language press in Estonia as it cannot pick up and publish every bit of information, Toom admitted.
The key Center politician said that she does not know a single Russian in Estonia who does not condemn Putin's aggression.
Editor: Marcus Turovski