Martin Helme, leader of the opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE), is convinced that the party's subpar election result was the fault of e-voting rather than unfortunate campaign messages or organizational shortcomings. Helme suggests that in-house critics are disappointed with their personal election results and sees no place for them in EKRE.
EKRE saw a record number of people leave the party at a time when it should have been the most united, on the eve of the March parliamentary elections. No fewer than 250 members left between January and March for a considerable uptick compared to recent trends. Can you pinpoint the reason?
I cannot. But if we had around 10,000 members at the start of 2023, this is now closer to 10,150. People come and go all the time in an organization of this size. The turnover is positive and I see no cause for concern.
Those to recently quit the party have included some outspoken and well-known members, according to Postimees. One of their criticisms is that it is difficult to get a word in at EKRE. In your opinion, do members dare criticize your decisions and choices? Also, do you deem such courage to be important?
As concerns Postimees, I would say that a liberal-globalist propaganda publication has produced yet another soap opera narrative here. I have no further comment on that.
But broadly speaking, I have been in politics for 20 years, and politics attracts a disproportionate number of sociopaths. In other words, people who sport an inadequate self-image, believe they are smarter than they actually are, know more than they really know and are entitled to more than other people. Such people are often taken advantage of in their ambitions.
As concerns the Postimeed editorial, I would say that the daily is recommending EKRE turn into another Free Party (Vabaerakond). In other words, abandon all true conservative and patriotic values and only occasionally make such hints while agreeing to globalist ghastliness, from the green and gay transitions to the federalization of the EU.
If your political opponents, and Postimees clearly positions itself as such in its editorial, try to give you advice in terms of what to become, I know precisely what not to become.
Still, do you see it as a value when members find the courage to tell leaders they believe the party is going down the wrong path?
There are no efforts to put down such courage. We have a lively debate inside the party, let me assure you. But what I consider important and keep a close eye on is for in-house debates to remain just that. They are not to be held on Facebook or on the pages of hostile media publications. We must part ways with those who err against this principle.
The EKRE council met in Türi over the weekend to reiterate that e-voting was behind its poorer-than-expected election result. Is cementing this view where the party did everything right, while external factors ruined the result really constructive? Will it help you put in a better result next time?
That is foremost on my mind. That if we fail to remedy the current situation where election results can be falsified in Estonia, what do we even want next time? If we continue to bury our heads in the sand and own up to what our ideological opponents say – you did this and said that wrong and should now bite your own hand off – leaving aside the fact that Estonia did not have fair elections, why bother planning campaigns in the first place.
That is the central issue. Of course, we have discussed and pinpointed some things we can do better next time, topics where the focus can be clearer, ways to use our resources more effectively. We have discussed all of those aspects.
But the main issue is how to make sure Estonia really does have fair and democratic elections. If we fail to answer that question, there is no sense in wasting time and money on anything else.
Do you have a roadmap for sorting it out in the opposition over the next four years?
We are working on it. We have plenty of ideas of what to do in the parliament, in terms of public opinion, our own organization. But I will not be communicating our battle plan publicly.
At the EKRE council meeting, Peeter Ernits said, among other things: "Our messages were at times embarrassing and people repeatedly asked me whether we were in our right minds. While mistakes happen everywhere, it would be best to admit when they do." Do you agree with Ernits in that mistakes were made? And leaving aside e-voting, what could EKRE have done better before elections or during the campaign?
No, naturally, I do not agree with what Peeter Ernits said. It sounds like bitterness over failing to make the parliament again. And I do not deem it sensible to go on such laments in the media.
I would return to numbers. We were the most popular party in the Riigikogu after the paper vote was counted – 28 seats. The electorate was boosted by 9 percent before elections. All of them used e-votes and voted for Eesti 200 or the Reform Party.
Helen Rebane, who left EKRE after taking over a thousand votes in Southeast Estonia at elections, told Postimees about her campaign efforts. "One thing people mentioned were Mart Helme's comments in the Riigikogu according to which Ukraine was about to fall and Russia to win. Because we are the only Estonian party that paid for buses to go there [to help people], why not concentrate on that?" Rebane also suggested that people were bothered by EKRE picking a public fight with the Defense Forces. I understand from this criticism that conflicts were sought in situations that could have been handled differently.
I cannot say why Rebane did not make more of an effort to explain that we sent buses. I will not be commenting on people airing their dirty laundry on the pages of newspapers, with every sentence betraying bitterness over failure to make the Riigikogu. There's no point.
The Center Party used to be critical of e-voting too. But Tanel Kiik said a few weeks ago that Center will have to explain e-voting to people so that the elderly would still get to vote for the party even if it rains on election day. He suggested that any party that keeps saying how e-voting is terrible is unlikely to get many electronic votes. Does that train of thought make sense to you?
Tanel Kiik has, therefore, done exactly what the [Postimees] editorial suggests, decided to lay down and take the beating quietly. Where this tactic has gotten the Center Party is clear from their election result. We will not become a poster child for an electoral system that has made sure a single party stays in power for 20 years.
Kiik, who is Center's chief whip in the Riigikogu, also said that Center is the leading opposition force. That they hold the post of Riigikogu vide president and their work is more constructive. How to measure who is the opposition leader?
It is mainly up to the public to decide to what extent someone is leading. I am not keeping score in terms of who has entered more bills into proceedings or burnt the midnight oil more often. We have a clear worldview to represent. We have clear messages for our voters, nor did they change once the elections were over.
On the contrary, we plan to focus on going back to the roots so to speak. We will continue to concentrate on protecting the normal family, protecting children. We are concentrating on being anti-immigration, on economic growth and people's prosperity. Those are the areas in which we plan to oppose the current government as best we can. We are driven and inspired by the desire not to let the government destroy Estonia.
EKRE said during its council meeting that it plans to work inside the confines of the Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act to obstruct bills aimed at "tax hikes, [criminalizing] hate speech, legalizing gay marriage, slashing child benefits and otherwise harming society, people's coping and the Estonian economy." Have you found new ways of doing this in the Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act? Because it seems to me that recent plays have been exhausted.
We have, and it will soon become evident what we will be doing and how. The rules and procedures have been analyzed from all angles. The important thing is for what we do in the parliament to resonate in the public sphere, merit public support. Those ends need to be tied together.
There is such a phenomenon as public opinion in politics, and it may prove quite difficult to get things done if public opinion is against you, even if you have the parliamentary majority. We aim to mobilize public opposition to the government's destructive policy.
Will you be joining in Center's Thursday protest meeting on Toompea Hill?
We will take our own steps. While there are mutually complementary aspects, they have their action plan and we have ours.
Tanel Kiik said that he is not in favor of obstruction tactics as that will see the government tie bills to a vote of confidence, which will cause them to be passed even more quickly. In the end, debate will suffer and the opposition will be overlooked altogether. How to combat that?
There will still be the first reading and the corresponding debate. And then we'll see where the breaking point is. If the government stars tying every bill to a confidence vote, that confidence will be eroded. The tactic definitely has its risks.
However, do you have levers for more effective stoppages?
More effective would stand for being able to completely block a bill from passing. We will have to wait and see, as the government's approach is clear. The nastiest bills will be introduced right away, without other bills making the rounds, which could be used to stall for time.
The Riigikogu's agenda is completely blank. It will be populated with taking away support from large families, tax hikes, gay marriage, the hate speech law, or effective censorship. And we will have to run obstruction in the confines of these few bills.
Keeping in mind that we can only throw up obstacles during the first reading because the government has been clear in that it plans to fire up the steamroller. I say again that this holds considerable risks in terms of general social mood, political temperature and capacity to govern. I think that such behavior will quickly render administration impossible in Estonia.
Editor: Marcus Turovski