The Richness of Life Party (Estonian: Elurikkuse Erakond) has filed a complaint against national public broadcaster ERR. The party has approached the office of the Chancellor of Justice, stating a request that all political parties running in all electoral districts in the March elections receive equal treatment in debates. The party is also reportedly picketing ERR's TV house in central Tallinn on Wednesday evening, when the first electoral debates are to be screened on ETV and Russian-language channel ETV+.
''We ask the Chancellor of Justice for assistance in ensuring national broadcaster ERR ceases to violate the constitution and treat all political parties who have submitted lists for all electoral districts, on an equal footing,'' the party said.
Political parties run lists in the 12 voting districts as resources allow. Independent candidates can also run in single districts. Richness of Life, which was only registered as a party in 2018 and does not have a designated leader as such, is running candidates in every district, though not the maximum 125 candidates which full lists would bring. The party is running around three candidates in each district, with Mihkel Kangur, its number one candidate in the North Tallinn, Haabersti and Kristiine district of Tallinn. However, ERR opted to invite representatives to its TV debates only from those parties running the full 125-strong roster.
Parties need full list of candidates to be on TV debates
There are set to be four, 75-minute election debate specials, called Election studio. The first of these is to air at 21.40 EET on Wednesday.
''We want the ERR board (the majority of which comprises representatives from the elected political parties at the Riigikogu) to its discriminatory decision no. 5.1 of 11.12.2018, and grant Richness of Life the same opportunities as provided to other nationally-listed parties,'' the party continued.
The party went on to state that in its opinion, ERR's council decision, and conduct of its staff in not treating all parties with submitted lists equally, does not comply with the constitution.
''The Riigikogu Election Act 2002 provides for a limit beyond which candidates may not be on the lists, but there is no indication that parties with a number of candidates below that limit would be in any way worse off," Richness of Life continued.
Richness of Life has been covered by ERR
"Unfortunately, ERR discriminates against us and does not give the party 'prime minister candidate' [Mr Kangur-ed.] the same opportunities as other political parties, having arbitrarily set the maximum legal threshold as a qualitative criterion, and justifying the unequal treatment of the prime minister candidate by the fact that the party has not nominated candidates to the maximum number allowed,'' it added.
A representative of Richness of Life, Helen Orav-Kottav, appeared on a pre-election debate show on one of ERR's radio channels on Tuesday.
The show, hosted by Arp Müller, featured guests from Reform, Centre, Estonian Greens and Pro Patria, in addition to Orav-Kottav. No members of SDE, EKRE, the Free Party or Estonia 200 appeared on the all-woman panel (probably due to a limit on the number of participants in any one broadcast).
Richness of Life notes that the main factor in its not having a full 125-member candidate list is due to a lack of funds.
''For a full list, where it is clear that most of the candidates do not have even a theoretical possibility of winning a seat, the total deposit required is €65,000, due before submitting the lists to the electoral committee,'' the party said.
Parties with Riigikogu seats receive state grants in proportion to the number of seats they hold, in addition to larger donations and membership fees. Non-parliamentary parties do not receive such grants. One other new party, Estonia 200, has managed to field an entire list despite these hurdles and is thus eligible to appear on ETV's election broadcasts. Richness of Life has explained that since it got off the blocks later than Estonia 200, only becoming a registered party in late 2018 (which requires a minimum of 500 members), it had not had as much time to amass donations to put up candidates.
ERR News all-woman debate
ERR News has covered Richness of Life from the outset, when it was still called 'the Biodiversity Party'. The party was formed around a group of mostly ecologically minded figures, including Roy Strider and Anzori Barklaja, as well as Mihkel Kangur and Artur Talvik (Mr Barklaja subsequently left the party). The party, which holds to the subsidiarity principle of governance, placing a higher emphasis on local decision-making, does not have a leader in the conventional sense. Mr Kangur is its ''prime minister'' candidate, who would fulfill that role should the party attain sufficient success at the polls. Most opinion polls currently put Richness of Life at around 1% of support from those questioned.
ERR News contacted all of the political parties active in Estonia, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary, giving them the opportunity to participate in an all-woman, live-streamed debate, in English, to be aired on Thursday at 13.00.
Positive responses were received from Centre, SDE, Pro Patria, Reform and Estonia 200. EKRE and Free have not at the time of writing provided a woman panellist. Richness of Life and the Estonian Greens did not respond directly to emails sent.
The Estonian United Left Party and the Rahva Tahe Party also either did not respond or had no obvious means of contacting them.
Since this debate is to be in English, concerns about candidates' level in the language, however misplaced, may also have been a factor.
In addition to radio interviews Richness of Life is eligible to appear in, the party is represented on a ''voting compass''. This app ranks respondents' ideal parties in order of suitability, based on over 20 questions (in Estonian).
The general election is on 3 March.
Editor: Andrew Whyte