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IRL forerunner party founder skeptical of new political group

Res Publica Founder Tõnis Kons
Res Publica Founder Tõnis Kons Source: Private Collection

Tõnis Kons, one of the founder members of Res Publica, formerly a conservative political party in Estonia which went on to form one half of current coalition incumbents IRL, has expressed skepticism about the emergence of Estonia 200 (Eesti 200) a new conservative player on the Estonian political scene and as such arguably an heir to Res Publica.

A lack of ambition and clear worldview seems to be at the heart of Kons' concerns when speaking to ERR recently, despite the clearly set-out ideals in the group's manifesto. Introducing yet another classically liberal party (in addition to IRL, voters also have the choice of the currently-out-of-office, but nonetheless highly popular, Reform Party) doesn't seem to be the answer in Kons' opinion.

"Ambition should be key, with nothing less than the goal of winning elections and getting into government," Kons told ERR.

"This means taking the fight to the Reform Party and Center Party [the largest party in the current coalition]," he went on.

He also bemoaned the apparent non-existence of a clear and cogent worldview within the new political grouping, which is not a party as such yet, as well as a dearth of strong leadership.

"It is worrying that the authors of this initiative seem to ignore the importance of worldview," Kons stated, after noting the centrality of this as the wellspring whence political choices and debate come.

"Looking at the names of signatories [of Estonia 200] today, I find it difficult to believe that many of them would be wiling to swap a challenging career in business for a job in day-to-day politics," he went on, referring to the would-be political party's founders, which comprise leaders from the world of banking, IT, medicine and academia.

Kons also pointed to a lack of clarity about what the new grouping actually is in essence; ie. whether it is merely some sort of think tank or pressure group aimed at bringing various important issues to public attention, or in fact a full-fledged political party, may remain to be seen.

However if it is the latter, there is a lot of work to be done, in Kons' opinion: "If the goal is ... a new political party, then the next elections are several months away and there is time for the group's leadership to both publicize their message and present themselves as capable of making the political decisions fitting for those in parliament or in government," he said.

"However such people are currently non-existent in this group," he went on.

There are nevertheless some positive aspects to the emergence of Estonia 200, according to Kons. Calling for debate and raising issues which will need to be faced by politicians in Estonia is healthy.

"This will bring a new generation of political actors to the fore who have hitherto been involved in other sectors and have not been engaged in public life yet," Kons concluded.

The five founder members of Estonia 200 have issued a manifesto which included amongst other things a desire to streamline bureacracy, strengthen the digital state in Estonia and boost entrepreneurshp, all staples of the Estonian conservative and economically liberal parties.

The group has already been largely well-received as a breath of fresh air by much of the political establishment.

The Res Publica party was founded in 2001 and entered the coalition government of Juhan Parts in 2003. They merged with the Pro Patria party in 2006 to become IRL which is currently in the coalition but which has seen a decline in popular support according to surveys.

Perhaps as a result of these challenges, IRL itself is undergoing something of a rebranding at present and is likely to change its name later in the year, likely going full circle either to Isamaa or Pro Patria.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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