Joakim Helenius: Eesti 200 has been brought to a crisis created by Tsahkna

Joakim Helenius.
Joakim Helenius. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Joakim Helenius, Eesti 200 member and a major donor to the party, has charged apparent leader-in-waiting Margus Tsahkna of leading the party into a crisis.

Helenius, a Swede who has taken Estonian citizenship and who speaks Estonian fluently, told Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" show that his party-mates should boycott the upcoming leadership election.

Helenius noted that Eesti 200's strong Riigikogu elections showing was the result of a strong electoral platform.

"Voters had hoped that the Eesti 200 would become a new player on the Estonian political scene, one which would implement innovative ideas and reforms, or at least stand for these," he said.

Since then, however, things have gone downhill, Helenius said.

"This already started during the coalition negotiations, where, in my opinion, the principles that we stood for in the manifesto were discarded, simply to obtain good positions within the new power structure," he continued.

The coalition negotiations with Reform and the Social Democrats began in April after Eesti 200 won 14 seats at the election the previous month.

"Since the coalition negotiations, the party has bumped from one scandal to the next. Today our rating is a fraction of what it had been at the elections. The fall has happened quickly, and the party can only blame itself. If this is not a crisis, I don't know what a political crisis might look like," Helenius said.

Tsahkna culpable

Helenius said that if Margus Tsahkna, the foreign minister, becomes party chair at the elections on Sunday, replacing Lauri Hussar, who is stepping down, the party will not be able to extricate itself from this crisis.

Helenius said. "Margus had essentially had the final veto on decisions already during Lauri Hussar's leadership. It is Margus who has made those decisions that have ended up in this crisis in the party. If the individual who is responsible for this crisis now thinks that he can handle said crisis better than this person; who did those things which Margus decided upon, then I find it very difficult to see how he can guide this party out of the current crisis," said Helenius.

Helenius, who polled at just over 2,000 votes at the March election, narrowly missing out on a Riigikogu seat, called on party members to boycott Sunday's leadership elections.

"If a sufficient number of party members agree with my arguments, I would hope they will then boycott the elections. If a large enough number of members do that, the board will need to decide how to proceed. If the turnout in the current leadership elections remains very small, then we will cancel them, then go ahead with new elections. And these could be organized as befits a democratic party," he said.

"I think that the party needs a radical reboot and a proper election process, in which people who are not currently participating can also do so. We need it to be the case that those who are candidates have enough time to make their thoughts and vision clear to party members," he went on.

I don't want to see the "old guard" at the helm any more

According to Helenius, an alternative to Tsahkna's faction, which would be able to restore the party's support, does exist within Eesti 200.

"These four persons who are responsible for the failure of the coalition negotiations are not the right ones to move the party forward. But we have some very capable and smart people in the party. Ahead of the elections, it was stated that Eesti 200 is a party of experts. We do have many experts, many business-people ad many scientists. We have plenty of people who really have something to give. I don't want to see this old guard in the leadership positions withing the party, any more," Helenius went on.

At the same time, Helenius said that he considers Kristina Kallas to be an effective Minister of Education and Margus Tsahkna to be a good Minister of Foreign Affairs, so there is no need to replace them from a ministerial perspective.

Kallas was the party's leader from its inception in 2018, to the leadership elections just over a year ago which saw Lauri Hussar, now Riigikogu speaker, installed. Hussar had quit his position as Postimees editor-in-chief in order to concentrate on a political career, and ran at the first elections Eesti 200 contested, the 2018 European Parliamentary elections.

"The leadership of the party, however, needs completely new people with a new understanding of what the party stands for," Helenius said.

Estonian voters do not want to hear slogans

Helenius said he also dislikes some of the soundbites the party and its coalition with Reform and the Social Democrats has used, such as "long plan" (Estonian: "pikk plaan"), "zero budget" ("nulleelarve") and "personal state" ("personaalne riik"). 

"This is one of the criticisms I have for the current government. Our party, which was intended to be a party of experts and which was supposed to talk about reforms in substantive detail, has instead turned into a party of slogans," he said.

"All parties involved in Estonian politics, from EKRE to the Social Democrats, can stand for these slogans, but they are essentially meaningless."

"We need to elucidate how we want to make changes in practice. I think that Estonian voters want to see that there is at least one political party in Estonian politics that talks about things as they actually are, and explains in detail how they want to make changes. Estonian voters do not want to hear slogans any more."

Should Eesti 200 leave the government?

According to Helenius, Eesti 200 does not necessarily have to leave the current government coalition, but must stand up for its positions more strongly in that context.

"We need to go back to the positions contained in our election program and carry out those changes within the government. I think that now the Reform Party is also going through some trying times, so now would be the right moment to push our principles through at government level. If nothing comes of it and the Reform Party does not agree to more of Eesti 200's views finding their way on to the government program, then we need to step down from that government. But that would be a last resort."

"But no one takes us seriously if they think that Eesti 200 just foes everything the Reform Party wants, just so that Tsahkna and Kallas can be in ministerial positions," he added.

Film director Arko Okki, who is running against Margus Tsahkna at Sunday's leadership election, is not, in Helenius' view, a very serious candidate the role. "I've not delved very deeply into his arguments," Helenius said.

When asked whether he will remain a party member after Sunday's general assembly, Helenius replied that the decision hinges on the extent to which his call for a boycott is heeded.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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