While leading politicians of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) continue to cultivate xenophobic policy, the party's voters are members of Estonian society, which is why cooperation with the party cannot be ruled out, said Raimond Kaljulaid (Centre) in a live interview on ERR's online broadcast Otse uudistemajast.
"Andrus Ansip once said that he would not cooperate with a Centre Party led by Edgar Savisaar," said Kaljulaid, who received the most votes in the election for the Centre Party board last weekend. "If we were to say the same thing about EKRE now, then what would that do to those who currently support EKRE? Would they feel that they were more or less a part of Estonian society? Would toxicity in Estonian society increase or decrease? In other words, even if the political spokespeople of EKRE behave absolutely terribly, we can't go and tell their voters that they don't count."
Nonetheless, said Kaljulaid, who currently serves as city district elder in the Tallinn district of Põhja-Tallinn but is vying for a seat in the Riigikogu, there are still very big differences in the Centre Party and EKRE's principles.
"The most significant difference is that EKRE is a xenophobic party, which divides up nationalities living in Estonia by category," he explained. "We fundamentally do not agree with this. The notion that Estonia can be turned back into a monoethnic and unilingual state is likewise not possible."
Estonia at risk of hard swing to the right
According to the city district elder, Estonia was directed for over 15 years in a political direction that current Prime Minister Jüri Ratas began to change two years ago.
"But he has not been able to sail full speed ahead in the new direction yet, which is why this change isn't quite fully understood, and the risk exists that a sharp shift toward the right will occur," he said, adding that compared to the prospect of a Reform-EKRE government coalition, Mart Laar's governments of the 1990s and their decisions would look like social democracy in comparison.
Kaljulaid said he had hoped that under the leadership of Kaja Kallas, the Reform Party would once again become the economically liberal party it was under her father Siim Kallas' leadership.
"To me, the Reform Party was the most interesting during the era when it was led by Siim Kallas," he said. "Yes, it wasn't the party with the greatest amount of support at the time. But I hoped that after they recovered from the shock of losing power and elected Kaja Kallas chairwoman of the party, then they would abandon their ethnic-based opposition. But this has not happened with the Reform Party."
Kaljulaid also said he had hoped that the Estonia 200 political movement would bring new players into Estonian politics, but thus far, the movement has still not been able to get on its feet.
"New people and ideas as very much needed in Estonian politics, as the makeups of the Riigikogu have grown consistently weaker — I can't recall one as bad as the last one," he continued. "We could really use Estonia 200, but their coming isn't going well at all."
Politicians should choose words more wisely
Asked by the host whether Aivar Riisalu's recent plan to restore Estonia's militarised border using conscripts was a conscious effort to steal election topics from EKRE, Kaljulaid replied that [political analyst and radio show host] Ahto Lobjkas is a great speaker and writer, but knows nothing about politics.
"There wasn't so much as an ounce of such cunning — that let Riisalu talk and if it doesn't go over well, then we'll say that that was him flying solo," he explained. "It's more important to choose your words widely ahead of elections. Kaja Kallas told ERR too that she had the idea of abolishing the social tax, but even her own party's financial experts were not in favour of this, and so there it remained. But now everyone has been arguing about it for weeks."
Party made up of cliques
Speaking about the Centre Party itself, Kaljulaid admitted that various cliques still exist within the party.
"We have people who are closer to Jüri Ratas, together with whom he was part of the internal opposition during the Edgar Savisaar era," he described. "We have the Tallinn city group. We have a group with Russian names, whose leader was previously Yana Toom, but now moreso Mihhail Kõlvart. I don't belong to any one of these; I am more of a one man show."
How does the Ratas-led Centre Party differ from the Savisaar-led party to precede it? According to Kaljulaid, there is more openness and inclusion in the leadership of the party now.
While Kaljulaid had earned the most votes in the election for the Centre Party board last Saturday, Ratas did not appoint him deputy party chairman; those jobs went to Mailis Reps, Kadri Simson, Jaanus Karilaid and Mihhail Kõlvart instead. He admitted that he had been disappointed over this decision on Saturday, but wasn't anymore.
"I don't know how things went that way, I guess that you have to ask of Jüri Ratas," he said. "But I was disappointed on Saturday night. At the same time, I support the principle that every leader, in politics and business alike, must be allowed to choose their own team from among those they consider the smartest and most powerful."
The city district elder said that he currently has his sights set on the 2019 Riigikogu elections taking place next March, and should he be elected, he would resign as city district elder. He most likely will not be running for the European Parliament.
Editor: Aili Vahtla