Mart Laar rooting for Tõnis Lukas in Isamaa leadership contest

Mart Laar served as prime minister from 1992-1994 and again from 1999-2002.
Mart Laar served as prime minister from 1992-1994 and again from 1999-2002. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Former Isamaa leader and prime minister Mart Laar says, that the party should be more accepting of different opinions, otherwise it will fall into decline and young people will look elsewhere. With Isamaa set to vote for a new party chair, Laar is hoping that Tõnis Lukas will land the role.

Who do you support for the role of (Isamaa) party chair, Lea Danilson-Järg, Tõnis Lukas or Urmas Reinsalu?

The party can manage without my support. But, if you want to know who I am rooting for, I will not hide it. All the candidates are strong and could do quite well. Tõnis and I have been through so much together over the years, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for him. There is no way I can hide that.

Isamaa performed badly in the Riigikogu elections. Why are people voting for other parties? The Reform Party for instance, won almost five times as many votes as Isamaa.

This is something that the party has to discuss. First of all, why is it that around a fifth of those who were Isamaa members when I was in office are in the Riigikogu, but are not [in the party] now? It follows, that there are some kinds of deficiencies and shortcomings in our party.

Secondly, I would like to suggest that we reflect on how it was possible for the Reform Party to turn its government partner into an all-destroying demon called "EKREIKE" (The government coalition of EKRE, Isamaa and the Center Party) at a time when a government was formed precisely because Isamaa made a different choice.

After all, Ismaaa did not go into government with EKRE and the Center Party last summer. And this is absurd, but it is always worth reflecting on whether something was, or was not, done, which allowed such an inaccurate view to prevail at that time.

I think that was perhaps one of the factors that had a strong influence on the elections, broadly speaking.

The Reform Party has always been able to find a suitable opponent to go up against before elections. In the old days it was the Center Party and Edgar Savisaar, now it is EKRE. What can Isamaa learn from this?

The opposition to EKRE spilled over to the other parties, including Isamaa. Unfortunately, I think it is not that simple. We have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how it was possible to get put in the same boat.

Should Isamaa be a 'party of the people,' with different currents and ideologies, which help it to attract more voters? You said that there are a lot of former Isamaa members in the Riigikogu. Some of them left because the atmosphere (in Isamaa) seemed to have dampened for them. Some of them certainly left in search of better careers in other parties.

Some have even been driven away.

I certainly had the (idea of) a people's party in mind when building Isamaa. There, not only do people argue, but they have to argue, and the leader of the party has to be able to tolerate these differences of opinion.

It will take a great deal of work to resolve and reconcile them, but that work must be done, and that is the task of the party leadership. Otherwise, there will simply be a dumbing down and a loss of new initiatives from young people, with fairly serious consequences for the party.

How do you view the new government and the new coalition? Are the things which are being done under the guise of getting public finances in order the right things to do?

At the moment, if we look at what has actually happened, I tend to agree with [businessman] Joakim Helenius (Eesti 200) when he says that we definitely need to get public finances in order, but unfortunately nothing has been done about it beyond words.

Recently, we have taken out more loans. And if this is the policy for public finances, then I am seriously concerned. We should have cut back immediately.  But the cuts have not been made.

Here, of course, we are again hearing about how everything is being blamed on the opposition, or I don't know who. For once, the Reform Party should also start to acknowledge its own responsibility.

Would you have started to make cuts and reduce spending?

[Yes], actually make cuts, not just talk about it. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable in the current situation.

After all, the Minister of Finance has said outright, that €0.5 billion will have to be cut this year. And that is in fact the exact amount that was borrowed again.

What do you not like about the law on marriage equality, did you also sign the letter condemning this bill?

There is a big war going on in Europe. Then a bill came along, which very clearly has a divisive effect on society. In my view, this is a political game that may well yield short-term political gains. However, it is a game being played with rather high stakes.

Would it have been enough if the implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act had been adopted?

I think that would have been reasonable.

What else bothers me looking ahead? I remember the debate on the Registered Partnership Act, which was, after all, quite divisive. It was repeatedly asserted at the time, that under no circumstances would there be any form of marriage equality. Now those promises have been broken.

What is the next step, which it has been promised will not be taken, but is in fact being taken?


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Editor: Michael Cole

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