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Helme: EKRE's popularity diminished by its criticism of Ukraine support

Martin Helme (EKRE).
Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has slipped to third in popularity, according to the results of Norstat's latest poll. EKRE chair Martin Helme said that voters may be disappointed in the party's criticism of support for Ukraine, for example, but also in the fact that they failed to make snap elections happen.

Based on the latest survey commissioned by the nonprofit Institute of Societal Studies (MTÜ Ühiskonnauuringute Instituut) and conducted by Norstat, support for EKRE has dropped 3.1 percentage points over the past four weeks – and from 24 percent respondents in early November to just 18 percent this month.

Estonia's most popular political party at the moment is the opposition Isamaa, with 26 percent support in January.

Speaking to ERR Wednesday, Helme said that Estonia's entire political landscape is caught up in a maelstrom right now – the coalition is fighting, the Center Party is falling apart and, in light of it all, Isamaa is rising in popularity. He admitted that support for Isamaa has grown at EKRE's expense as well in recent months.

He said that on one hand, EKRE has lost voters over opposing the allocation of significant amounts of aid to Ukraine.

"We knew in advance that we would start being accused of not being supportive enough in terms of Ukraine," Helme explained. "But our position here is absolutely clear: at the expense of the welfare of the people of Estonia, at a time when we're in a budget crisis, when taxes are going up, neither children's benefits nor teachers' wages can be paid, roads can't be built, this support for Ukraine has been taken too far, and someone has to say it. That definitely cost us some of our support."

According to the party chair, however, there are other reasons as well – such as their unsuccessful attempt to provoke snap elections.

"It must always be emphasized that that didn't go through because the Riigikogu violated the Constitution and its rules of procedure," he stressed. "No doubt people who were expecting and wanted snap elections – more than half of Estonian society as we know, according to polls – were disappointed or lost hope to some degree."

Helme said that the party is working on a plan for how to move forward in these new circumstances, but isn't sharing it publicly yet.

"We're in a bit of a shifting gears or consolidating the ranks state here," he acknowledged.

Controversial angle may be backfiring

MEP Jaak Madison (EKRE/ID) told ERR that Isamaa currently looks like a softer, more comfortable option for the national conservative voter. Imitating the latter's strategy, however, would entail EKRE abandoning its own principles.

"If we started going very soft following Isamaa's lead, we'd ultimately end up shooting ourselves in the foot," Madison said.

He suggested that Isamaa's rise in popularity is only temporary, and that it's by no means guaranteed that voters will still support Isamaa three years from now, ahead of the next Riigikogu elections.

"When the Reform Party replaces their chair, which they're going to do anyway, then those very same Isamaa voters that fled the Reform Party will perceive the Reform Party as having cleaned house and that it's a perfectly normal party," the EKRE MEP said. "And then support for Isamaa will drop again. So I believe EKRE doesn't necessarily have to chase down those voters. In the end, when Isamaa's downfall comes, then those few percentages of voters who have gone from supporting EKRE to supporting Isamaa, I guess they'll come back."

Political scientist Martin Mölder noted that their too blunt and rigid political communication may have backfired on EKRE as well, acknowledging that their language initially attracted more voters, but also set a cap on their support at around 25 percent.

"If alongside EKRE you now have a second prominent national conservative party in Isamaa that doesn't cultivate such a controversial political style, that doesn't give off the impression of being a troublemaker, then quite a lot of voters will indeed tend to look to Isamaa," Mölder said.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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