Helme: I am arguing against Reform ministers, not EDF chief
Martin Helme, chair of EKRE, said on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" webcast that he would have preferred to debate the deployment of heavy weaponry to Ukraine with Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Hanno Pevkur (Reform) rather than with Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Commander General Martin Herem.
Wednesday's "Otse uudistemajast" webcast featured Martin Helme, chair of the far-right EKRE, and Urmas Reinsalu, deputy chair of the conservative right-wing Isamaa, discussing the recent Riigikogu elections.
By way of introduction, Helme said that as long as he did not know how the e-votes were tallied and the electoral service did not disclose the logs, there was no way of knowing what the real will of the voter was. And for this reason, Helme said, he and EKRE supporters cannot accept the election results as valid.
Isamaa vice-chair Urmas Reinsalu disagreed, claiming that dignified conservatism does not undermine institutions' credibility. He also recalled that when e-voting produced the second best result for EKRE in the previous elections, the party did not object to it.
"You say that you want to maintain the credibility of the elections, but you, Martin, continue to insist that a part of our society does not believe the new parliament is legitimate. I think it would be more responsible, especially in the current border situation, to seek common ground within society, while this arguing over the system seems immature," Reinsalu said.
Helme replied that if they were shown the e-voting data, it would be very simple to verify the authenticity of the election results. "It's not difficult and it's not classified. In the end, everyone will have to accept the decision of the courts (where EKRE is considering going - ed)," he said.
"No, we won't!" Helme responded to a question from a presenter about whether the outrage over the e-elections could lead to a situation similar to what happened in the U.S., with EKRE supporters attacking Toompea.
Reinsalu said that, whether we like the election results or not, the people have spoken, and the elections should be concluding.
"Even though there was a feeling that the ratings were floating, someone calculated the median and the results were actually rather accurate. Congratulations to Aivar Voog, the director of research at Kantar Emor," Reinsalu said.
A war of words with the EDF chief
The program's host, Indrek Kiisler, asked Helme if EKRE's lower-than-expected results were not due to Helme's verbal battle with EDF chief Martin Herem in the weeks leading up to the election, during which EKRE had nothing to gain and everything to lose.
"It is unfortunate that I debated the issue of national defense forces not with Pevkur or Kallas, but with the commander of the Estonian defense forces, who was campaigning for the Reform Party two weeks prior to the election. I criticized the government's decision to distribute heavy weapons; it is not up to Herem to do so. Instead of hearing an explanation from the government, the military chief accused me. I am not sure if he did it at the request of the Reform Party," Helme said.
When asked if EKRE's campaign missed the mark by focusing on economic and livelihood issues, despite the fact that energy prices began to fall, Helme responded that he did not see the situation in this light.
"The economic collapse is less visible in Tallinn's center, but it is more severe outside the city limits. The point is that elections are fought over narratives.
The current government would clearly benefit if the primary topic was not the economy and people's livelihoods, but war. The Reform Party was rather successful in keeping the focus on war and scaring society," Helme said.
Nonetheless, the host pointed out, EKRE's statements reflected the criticism of Ukraine, while there is widespread support in Estonian society for arming Ukraine and accepting war refugees.
Helme replied that EKRE expressed their support for Ukraine, emphasizing that Estonia and Ukraine have a common enemy in Russia."However, we cannot accept mass immigration, surrendering of our weapons or having things done at the expense of our people. I agree that we, maybe, to some extent, were not able to convey all of this clearly enough to our voters," Helme said.
He went on to say that EKRE's campaign also made mistakes and sometimes knowingly defended positions that were not very popular.
"Throughout the campaign, I have not met a single person who believed a word of the Prigozhin story. It was a straightforward information operation and a fabrication. And yes, I did come across people on the street who thought it was inappropriate to debate how many Ukrainians could enter Estonia or how many of our weapons we would hand over. This was our stance, and we were well aware that it was unpopular, but we insisted on it because we believe these government decisions were harmful to Estonia," Helme said.
Isamaa and EKRE do not plan to replace leaders
Kiisler said that Isamaa had good chances in the outgoing state legislature: they were a weight in coalitions and accomplished things that could not have been easily passed considering their small size. And yet, at the elections, Isamaa lost voters.
"Whoever gets the votes, gets the things," responded Reinsalu jokingly, adding that Isamaa's starting point has always been that some decisions must be made regardless of the elections.
"We hoped that our policies and a balanced message would help us win, but we did not succeed in the communication war," Reinsalu said.
He disagreed that Isamaa's poor election results should force party chair Helir-Valdor Seeder to resign, "Of course, the captain is responsible for the election outcome, but he is also responsible for the many good things that Isamaa has accomplished while in government. I am not convinced that the party's chair must resign straight away," Reinsalu said.
Helme also said that he would not resign as a result of the election results being worse than expected and that no one in EKRE was calling for him to do so.
"Let's see what happens with electronic voting first. Even if all of the e-votes were counted correctly, our goal was to gain seats. However, we will not be derailed by the loss of two seats. On the contrary, we must fight even harder for our beliefs and ideals, as the left-liberal agenda needs countering. We held a party leadership meeting on Tuesday, and the question of whether the party leadership or party leaders should be replaced was not brought up," EKRE's chair said.
He went on to say that the established parliamentary practice will continue and that EKRE, as the largest opposition party, will win the position of deputy speaker of the Riigikogu.
Helme predicted a difficult coalition with the Reform Party and the Socialists for Eesti 200.
"This is the most advantageous coalition for the Reform Party. Both smaller parties are aware that if they fidget too much, they will be kicked out and replaced by the Center Party," Helme said.
Reinsalu broadly agreed, recalling that the rhetoric between the Reform Party and the Center Party became more cautious in the autumn.
"But for the Reform Party, it was wise to take a new party (the Eesti 200 - ed.) into government with a new mandate and put them immediately in charge of the government. It was a question of a third partner and they made their choice. Whether it was more convenient for them or closer to their worldview," Reinsalu said.
Reinsalu praised Kaja Kallas for not making a spectacle of the situation and for not bringing a fourth party to the table, which would have been eventually excluded as superfluous.
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Editor: Urmet Kook, Kristina Kersa