Tallinn Technical University (TTÜ) rector and former politician Jaak Aaviksoo has said that the Isamaa/Res Publica (formerly IRL) party is out of touch with nationalist, conservative-leaning voters in Estonia losing support, who now tend to be the domain of the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE).
Mistakes in strategy were made when the Pro Patria Union, a national-conservative party, merged with the conservative, but arguably less clearly so, Res Publica party to become IRL, in 2006, Mr. Aaviksoo said.
Mr. Aaviksoo himself is a former IRL member of the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) and was defence minister under former prime minister Andrus Ansip, as well as going on to be education minister.
IRL rebranded itself Isamaa/Pro Patria earlier this year, but has been losing support, according to some surveys falling below the level needed to maintain the 5% mandate necessary for Riigikogu seats.
A hardening of hearts?
''If this dimension [ie. the conservative-nationalist one] is neglected, we can end up with the situation we have today with more outspoken members becoming more 'tribal','' Mr. Aaviksoo said, in an interview on ETV's 'Esimene Stuudio' political show.
EKRE, formed in 2012 under Mart Helme's leadership, is known for occassionally making torchlight processions through the streets of Tallinn on important national days in Estonia. It is also the only major party in Estonia to have made gains in support, according to polls and surveys, in recent months.
''EKRE's future is currently much rosier than that of Isamaa, and restoring its earlier situation will prove very complicated, something which saddens me,'' Mr. Aaviksoo went on.
Predictions for 2019?
As regards his predictions for the general election in March 2019, Mr. Aaviksoo said he thought that right now it is looking like a victory for the current coalition senior party, the Centre Party, though the opposition Reform Party could clinch it.
''Let's face it, [current prime minister] Jüri Ratas has been performing very well,'' he went on.
'''The squirrels' [Reform's nickname] have fallen behind these tactical Centre Party successes, but they haven't unleashed their full potential yet. Their new, bold leader may make the best of the coming months and snatch a victory, but at the moment my money is still marginally on Centre,'' he continued.
Need for a coherent parliament
According to Jaak Aaviksoo, a fragmented parliamentary situation post-election would be a bad thing, however.
''If we get a parliamentary composition which is splintered across a variety of parties, pulling together longer-term policies will prove difficult, with people resolutely fighting their own corners, and bringing about an unstable situation,'' he went on.
The context is the emergence of two new political parties, 'Estonia 200' and another new grouping led by former Free Party head Artur Talvik, as well as mass defections from the Narva branch of Centre, and discord surrounding leadership and other issues in the Social Democratic (SDE) and Free parties.
Nonetheless, Mr. Aaviksoo avers, new faces are always welcome into politics.
"The choices to voters remain the same, and the latter remain unconvinced about some of the new political groupings even as they present themselves as fresh alternatives,'' he said.
''I also want to see new faces in politics, people who have proven themselves outside of the political sphere,'' he added.
Professor Jaak Aaviksoo is a physicist and politician and current Rector of TTÜ He was formerly Rector of the University of Tartu.
The original interview clip (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte