Mihhail Stalnuhhin's decision to participate in Riigikogu elections as an independent candidate will make for a more accurate way to gauge how many people in Ida-Viru County share his rather anti-Estonian ideas than a public poll, Erik Gamzejev finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
The Center Party evicted Stalnuhhin, who has been among the party's top vote magnets for the past quarter century, in September, after he had referred to members of the Estonian government as fascists. This followed the removal of the T-34 tank statue and other Soviet monuments in Narva.
Stalnuhhin is one of only a handful of MPs who have failed to publicly and unequivocally condemn Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Stalnuhhin said he does not believe Russian aggression but rather a Ukrainian provocation mere days before Russia invaded on February 24.
For years, the MP has made it a habit to be away from the Riigikogu on days when it has released statements to mark the anniversary of Soviet deportations.
Stalnuhhin has long opposed the switch to Estonian education and told Postimees in an interview earlier this year that he plans to try and sabotage the reform.
It is possible that these positions follow Stalnuhhin's personal convictions, as well as the pragmatic realization that they are shared by enough potential voters for a personal mandate and a Riigikogu seat for another four years. As an experienced politician, he knows that it does not pay to try and please as many voters as possible and that one should rather concentrate on those who share one's views and then put the pedal to the metal.
Narva Mayor Katri Raik, who got a lot more votes than Stalnuhhin at the previous local elections in Narva but has decided not to run for the Riigikogu this time, has suggested that Stalnuhhin's political "best before" date has come and gone.
This conclusion could be drawn based, in addition to losing to Raik, on Stalnuhhin's gradually dwindling election results since his record of 8,500 votes in 2011. However, even his previous Riigikogu elections result of 2,653 votes is a solid achievement. More so if we consider that Stalnuhhin ran in the same district as popular Center candidate Yana Toom.
Stalnuhhin could be looking at a comeback in the wake of a crafty campaign. Firstly, he is free of the constraints of belonging to the Center Party that has lost much of its popularity in Ida-Viru County in recent years. Stalnuhhin no longer has to choose his words based on whether they could tarnish Center's reputation in other parts of Estonia. The leaders of the party can also breathe easy as they no longer have to explain and apologize for the controversial politician's words.
Stalnuhhin is going after votes by emphasizing he is one of only a handful of politicians to have clearly opposed the removal of Soviet monuments and switching Russian schools to teaching in Estonian. For many, these messages hold enough of an emotional charge to be all the platform that's needed. The fact that several [Soviet] grave markers were replaced in parts of Ida-Viru County last week is water for Stalnuhhin's mill and helps mobilize his supporters.
How many such voters are there among Estonian citizens (as permanent residents who are not citizens cannot vote in Riigikogu elections) and whether their support will graduate from social media likes to actually turning out to vote will become clear by the evening of March 5. As will whether Mihhail Stalnuhhin will become the first independent candidate to be elected at Riigikogu elections since Estonia regained its independence.
To paraphrase President Alar Karis, who said this summer that Narva is about more than one tank, these elections will tell us whether Ida-Viru County is about Stalnuhhin or those of his ilk. Provided he will only take a few thousand votes, the answer would be a resounding no. This would tell us that the target group for such views is dwindling. However, should Stalnuhhin put in the best result and take around 10,000 votes, we would be left with a plethora of questions in terms of how to unite our society to a greater degree.
However, it is likely that Stalnuhhin's mere participation will increase voter turnout in Ida-Viru County, which was lowest in Estonia at 49 percent four years ago. Without Stalnuhhin, it might have been even lower this year as polls suggest voters are disappointed in their long-time favorite Center Party. Some former Center voters would simply not have turned out.
Stalnuhhin's participation should cause other parties to double their efforts in Ida-Viru County. The electoral district has lost a mandate for a total of six since 2019 as it is. Should one of them go to Stalnuhhin, this leaves just five, with the price of a single mandate also higher in terms of votes needed.
How would Stalnuhhin go about executing his policy as an independent candidate should he be elected? Could he prove the deciding vote for a party in different situations?
However, the even more relevant question is how to change the core mentality of Estonian citizens – and I can't stress this enough – who elected him. Whatever the case, the mere fact of Stalnuhhin's participation should provide sociologists and political scientists with plenty of food for thought.
Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski