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Free Party asks for week grace period to resolve issues in midst of turmoil

Flag with Free Party logo.
Flag with Free Party logo. Source: Free Party

Fourteen members of the Free Party (Vabaerakond), including the party's chairman Andres Herkel, have asked for a week-long truce to give the governing board time to come to some agreement. The party had already seen calls from five party board members for the resignation of current leader Andres Herkel, and the actual resignation of board member Jaanus Ojangu.

The 14 members of the opposition party embroiled the current internal crisis said in a public statement that they have discussed the internal tensions affecting the party at length and have arrived at the conclusion that in the present upheaval, the board needs to be granted a week's 'ceasefire' in order to conclude agreements on how to move forward.

"We are calling on members of the party to not sign an appeal for the convocation of an extraordinary general meeting during that time," the Free Party's announcement says.

Despite Andres Herkel's statement to ERR a little over a week ago that there were no warring factions within the Free Party, former deputy chair of the party Jaanus Ojangu tendered his resignation at a meeting on Thursday and another board member, Vello Vainsalu stated his readiness to step down as well if it would help things get back on an even keel.

Mr. Herkel has consistently stated his view that he is open to, and indeed encourages, dialogue in diagnosing the nature and extent of the party's problems and that he would need to do this in any case before making public announcements on the Free Party's future.

Free Party seemingly hugely over-represented at Riigikogu compared with size

The Free Party had just 627 members as at 24 August, it is reported. This compares with over 12,000 reported for the opposition Reform Party, now the largest party in terms of number of seats (30) at the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu). Coalition majority party the Centre Party reports a membership level of close to 15,000. The current junior ruling coalition parties, the Social Democratic Party, and Isamaa/Res Publika, as well as opposition party the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) all report membership levels in the thousands, and even the unrepresented (in the Riigikogu) Estonian Green Party reports a membership level of above 1,000.

This surely makes the Free Party, with eight seats at the Riigikogu, unusually over-represented in terms of numbers of seats to members though naturally one does not have to be a party member to vote for any party. Moreover the number of Free Party members would presumably have been in free-fall some time between the 2015 general election, when it received 49,882 votes, and present.

The breakdown of ratio of members to seats is here is as follows (data as claimed by parties themselves as at August 2018):

PartyNumber of Party Members Number of Seats in Riigikogu Ratio of Members/Seats
Free Party62778.4

*Three independent members of the Riigikogu make up the total of 101 seats, including former Free Party leader Artur Talvik, and Olga Ivanova who recently quit the Centre Party.

Thus we can see that not only EKRE and obviously the Greens, but even Reform are the most under-represented at the Riigikogu in proportion to party size, SDE somewhat better represented than average, and Centre fittingly enough at the median point.

Much of the Free Party's woes seem to stem from the resignation of former leader Artur Talvik earlier in the year, by Mr. Herkel's own admission. Mr. Talvik has already announced the formation of a new political party. This comes in addition to the formation of yet another new party, Estonia 200, as well as a regional breakaway group in Ida-Viru County being formed following a large number of councillors in Narva leaving the Centre Party in the wake of a corruption scandal. EKRE is the only established party which has seen an increase in membership in recent months; the others have all experienced a fall.

The next general elections in Estonia will take place on March 3, 2019. The Estonian parliamentary elections employ a proportional representation system where the country is divided into twelve multi-member constituencies. Seats are allocated using a variation of the D'Hondt system.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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