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Five Free Party board members demand Herkel resign as party chair

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Andres Herkel in front of Free Party headquarters in Tallinn.
Andres Herkel in front of Free Party headquarters in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Five members of the board of the opposition Free Party on Thursday night proposed that Andres Herkel resign as party chairman and that current deputy chairman Kaul Nurm temporarily replace him as head of the party.

"Five members of the board proposed that [Herkel] resign," Free Party member Jaanus Ojangu, who handed in his resignation from the board during the same meeting, told ERR. "And that he would be replaced by deputy chairman Kaul Nurm. The chairman replied that he had not received a single proposal worth discussing.

The board of the Free Party consists of 11 members, which means that Herkel narrowly avoided an expression of no confidence. Ojangu added that signatures are already being gathered within the party in support of convening an extraordinary general meeting.

"I don't want to say anything more at present," Mr. Herkel said to ERR, "because I don't have sufficient information on whether this event concerns just one individual or reflects more widespread dissent within the whole party."

"I would prefer to speak to people first, since there are diverging opinions, and then discuss the issue with the whole party at an extraordinary meeting if need be," he went on.

A party in strife?

Mr. Herkel also said that another key member, Vello Väinsalu, was ready to step down from his post if no solutions to the current issues should emerge. The party is apparently also set to meet on Friday to discuss its internal woes.

The news comes just a week after the Party held its annual summer day, a traditional event for most parties, public institutions, organisations and companies in Estonia, when Mr. Herkel stated to ERR that there was no major division in the party.

"There's no rift. The party has to move forward towards the coming elections. For this we'd need to be of one mind," he explained.

Lutsepp sends letter to party mailing list

Party board member Elo Lutsepp sent a letter to the members of the Free Party on Friday in which she wanted to make known that she and Ojangu had, in the name of soothing tensions and restoring cooperation within the party, proposed to the party chairman that he resign, and that he be replaced until an extraordinary general meeting be called by party deputy chairman Kaul Nurm.

According to the letter, a significant part of the party's programme principles rely on Nurm, who has a great deal of leadership experience and a clear desire to change things in the political battle that the upcoming Riigikogu elections promise to be. "The proposal was not even taken into consideration," she noted.

Lutsepp added that while Ojangu quit the party board over Herkel's behaviour on Thursday, she did not want to follow suit for now, as quitting the party board would also mean leaving the Free Party's representative body.

"As the representative body has been for the entirety of its existence referred to as a pointless bazaar, although it is precisely there that the party's political decisions and messages are confirmed, and it is the place where we all have a say in discussing matters important to the party," she said. "But if our proposal to achieve peace within the party truly is that unacceptable, then I will certainly take responsibility as a member of the board and remove myself from the party leadership."

Talvik departure a watershed event

Behind the current problems, Mr. Herkel sees the departure of former leader Artur Talvik in the spring as the tipping point, after which debate about its future ground to a halt.

"Ultimately I wound up alone as candidate for party leader [after Mr. Talvik stepped down] and a lot of things were left unresolved," he added.

Andres Herkel was elected leader of the Free Party in May out of five candidates; Artur Talvik had already stated that he would not be re-running for leadership, has since quit the party and its corresponding parliamentary group and is now talking about starting his own, new party.

Founded in 2014, the opposition Free Party is currently represented by eight seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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