Tõnis Mölder on changing parties: Eastern politics don't work in the West

Tõnis Mölder talking to ERR.
Tõnis Mölder talking to ERR. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

MP and former environment minister Tõnis Mölder, who has just left Center, says he believes that his former home party will transmute into a Tallinn-centric municipal party which only appeals to a narrow group of voters. Others may also leave the party in the near future, he said in an interview given to ERR's radio news, which follows.

Why did you opt to leave the Center Party?

Center has been my home party for the past 15 years. On September 10, in Paide, however, the party chose a trajectory which I did not Estonian politics for, and which in fact does not align with my worldview. 

Since this was the choice of Center Party members, the choice must be respected, but I must honestly admit to both myself and my party colleagues that it was no longer possible to move forward together from that point, and that these paths will part ways, starting today.

You wrote that "The Center Party has moved from the middle to the extremes, and has chosen but one path, for retaining a narrow group of voters." Exactly what direction did the Center Party choose at its Paide congress?

Throughout its history, the Center Party has been a strong party, across Estonia, one which can speak to all voter groups, and which stands up for the weaker voter groups, be they the elderly, or people with lower incomes. The Center Party has also had a strong program in regional politics and on social issues.

But today, I can see that the party clearly focuses more on the activities in the capital only, meaning the periphery is not reached. Another problem is surely that messages are being targeted to speak to a non-[Estonian] speaking electorate. In short, let it not be stated that Eastern politics do not work in the West.

Do you feel that the current leadership of Center will, or may, start to pursue such Eastern politics?

The question is what messages the leading politicians of the Center Party can give on various key issues.  My belief is that after February last year, the world no longer looked as it had, leaving very many situations completely black and white. Looking for colors in this situation is certainly not the western way of doing politics.

What has gone on within the party, since the congress earlier this month?

What has transpired following the congress is, I think, that the victors have been able to feel the joy of winning. Those who, figuratively speaking, came second, with their team, at the congress, have taken time out to think and to comprehend whether it is possible to merge this party into a single whole, or whether everyone here must choose a new political direction for themselves.

Plus I think many centrists are pondering such thoughts. What are their options? The last few weeks have revealed that so many veterans or top politicians from the Center Party have made their choices in such a way that they have left the party. Will there be more to come, in the next few weeks? I rather think so. But each individual has to make these decisions for him- or herself.

Do you expect that there will also be more people quitting the Center Party faction [at the Riigikogu]?

I think that the Center Party faction in the form it was elected in the spring of this year, with 16 MPs... Some from this 16 have already left (ie. Jaanus Karilaid plus Mölder himself – ed.). My belief is that this group of leavers will be significantly larger by 2027 (when the next Riigikogu elections take place – ed.).

What will happen with the Center Party itself? Where will it be able to place himself on the political map of Estonia, in the future?

Time will tell whether my thinking is correct and/or whether my predictions and political sense are on point, but it seems to me that the Center Party will morph into a very unequivocally capital-centric municipal party, which will certainly very clearly speak to a narrow circle of voters.

The Center Party cannot continue in the role it held in the last twenty years, when its support nationwide ranged from good to very good, and where it was viable to unify all social groups in such a way that everyone in Estonia felt equal.

Where will Isamaa fall on this political map (Mölder and Jaanus Karilaid have both joined that party – ed.)? Will its position change, compared with today?

I think that Isamaa has the potential to become a conservative, but open, people's party, with very strong support. Precisely to address the people of Estonia, across Estonia.

What the results for Isamaa in the next elections will turn out to be, time can only tell, but certainly Isamaa will need to work very hard at appealing to a large electorate, all over Estonia. 

And my clear vision is that Isamaa has the potential to offer a great alternative to all the regressive policies we're getting from the current coalition.  The goal, again, must be that the people of Estonia get a credible alternative to the Reform Party.

Nonetheless, why Isamaa? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never thought of you as being particularly conservative.

Isamaa has been a political party whose political philosophy and worldview has long appealed to me. I think that some of the steps taken by Isamaa since February of last year have been very clear in their direction. Just in the way that Estonia's security policy is seen, is how its foreign policy is viewed too [in Isamaa].

However, I think that what is even more important is how the future of the Estonian economy is pictured and, consequently, the fate of the people of Estonia; these are the ideas that have spoken to me. I think that Isamaa certainly has the potential to deal even more strongly with both regional policy and environmental policy.

So I was attracted to this team. But to be a bench-warmer in the Riigikogu in order to remain, as it were, on the political scene, but alone, well that seemed like a poor future. As you would know, politics is a team game, and in order to carry out something great for the people and the voters of Estonia, you have to find good teammates from within this landscape.

When you join a new political party, you being with you all the inside information of your previous home party, so to speak. You know the internal discussions, concerns and delicate issues inside the Center Party. Is there a set of political etiquette surrounding all this, ie. what do you keep to yourself, and what do you write a long memo about?

I would like to say that leaving is not talked about badly. I think that what happens in the Center Party, stays in the Center Party, just as what happens in Isamaa stays in Isamaa. The two things are unrelated.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

Source: ERR Radio News

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