Isamaa leader: Party must ditch 'evil' image, distance self from EKRE

Helir-Valdor Seeder
Helir-Valdor Seeder Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Isamaa needs to ditch is image as an "evil" protest-party in order to improve on its relatively poor showing at the March 5 Riigikogu election, the party's leader, Helir-Valdor Seeder, says.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday, Seeder, whose party now holds eight Riigikogu seats where it had previously held 12, and is not involved in negotiations aimed at forming the next coalition, said the election performance was mainly the result of a polarizing campaign between Reform and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which Isamaa did not want to get involved in.

Nonetheless, Isamaa still went into the election with the image of an "evil" and "protest-minded" party hanging over it, Seeder added.

Furthermore, the campaign lacked clearly defined issues, he said.

"No major theme emerged in the various areas, be it education, health care or people's livelihoods. In these last elections, it was not so much a case of voting for someone, as against someone. This divided society, which did not suit Isamaa; we wanted to talk about what has been carried out in the past four years, what what was done well, what badly, what has not been done and what needs to be done in the future. Yet we were caught between two polar opposites," Seeder said.

"The other side of this concerns our image as holding to a national-conservative worldview, an image which carries with it an evil and protesting reputation. This image has also been transferred to Isamaa, as the population were intimidated and corralled into the one EKRE-I-KE coalition bloc, especially by our [current] coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the Reform Party," he added.

Isamaa were in office with EKRE and the Center Party (popularly referred to as EKRE-I-KE) from April 2019, just after the last Riigikogu elections, to January 2021.

After a spell in opposition, Isamaa reentered coalition with Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE) last July, though even at the time and even in the view of the coalition's participants, this was only a stop-gap administration until the March 5 election.

Constitutionally, this coalition remains in office on a rubber-stamp basis until a new coalition deal is signed and the alignment passes a Riigikogu votes.

With 60 seats between them, the under-discussion Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition is generally taken to be a fait accompli.

Isamaa has also been dogged by an "EKRE-lite" tag, since its period in office with that party and despite strenuous rejections by leading party members; on Tuesday's show, Seeder said that the party holds the diametrically opposite view on the Estonian language in relation to other languages (on which Isamaa is quite close to the Reform Party-ed.) and on citizenship.

These differences alone mean a united opposition bloc, EKRE-I-KE in opposition in other words, will not emerge at the XV Riigikogu, Seeder added.

"I can confirm that a united opposition will not materialize. The views of the three parties that now make up the opposition are very different. But that does not mean that we will not cooperate in certain areas, by which I mean with both the coalition and the opposition."

"With regard to opposition MPs, the Riigikogu must divide up its seats - the deputy Riigikogu speakers, Riigikogu committee seats, committee vice-chairs, delegations, certain board seats etc." he went on.

"So much cooperation still needs to be done, but the political worldview, if we take the Center Party, EKRE and Isamaa together, sees many differences, starting with the language law, Estonian-language education and ending with taking away voting rights [in local elections] from Russian citizens [resident in Estonia]."

Paradoxically, Seeder added, Isamaa got caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in the sense that while some more liberal-minded potential voters were put off with any association with EKRE, the same also applied to conservatives bothered about continued cooperation with Reform and SDE.

Seeder: No discussions about party leadership change

Unlike Jüri Ratas, whose future as Center Party leader is now being challenged by Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, the election losses for Isamaa have not led even to a discussion about the party's leadership, Seeder added.

At the same time, a board meeting is set for Saturday, which will take the form of an electoral post mortem, along with a scheduled extended board meeting in spring or summer, in which the chair and the board will be voted on in any case, Seeder added.

The party in short needs to shed the "evil" and protest-party image, and also address younger voters more, in order to build on its current number of MPs at the next elections in 2027, Seeder added.

As for the current coalition-in-waiting, he added that this should actually reveal what Eesti 200's worldview really is – be it as liberal as has been implied in campaigns, or less so, not the least since some of its leading politicians, including some ex-Isamaa members, have supported more conservative values in the past, Seeder said.

Parempoolsed, formed around a nucleus of breakaway ex-Isamaa members (and even one MP, Siim Kiisler) failed to win any seats on March 5.

Some tipsters had suggested Isamaa's view on taxation was closer to that of Reform and, for that matter, Eesti 200, but this has not led to the party being included in the current talks. At the same time, Seeder himself has said that the party's stance on the Registered Partnership Act – legislation which would make cohabiting couples on an equal legal footing with married couples and which Isamaa does not want to fully enact – meant it was likely to be excluded anyway.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

Source: 'Esimene stuudio', interviewer: Andres Kuusk.

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