„I don't want to be coarse; however, I can put it in no other way,“ the Pro Patria Res Publica (IRL) union's native pro patrians found after the party council met on Saturday. The virtual vote of no confidence in chairman Margus Tsahkna now leaves the party's uncertain fate in the hands of the Res Publica camp.
The council's decision not to support Tsahkna's last ditch plan for rendering the party more open and modern left the Free Party and the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) feeling cheerful after their gatherings on Saturday and Sunday respectively: one less competitor to deal with at the 2019 election.
Several members of the party who rooted for Tsahkna said that first they have to wait for the May 13 general assembly where IRL will elect its new chairman. One of the most confident speakers after the meeting was council chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder, whom Siim Kiisler's Res Publica camp would prefer to see as chairman. Seeder announced that he would seriously consider a proposal to run for chair.
However, the newly reinforced Res Publica camp would rather find someone from the outside to show how their leadership can bring about real change Tsahkna failed to realize during his two years as leader. The question is how to find a capable captain for steering a ship that's already taking on water through foreign and defense policy reefs and replacing Tsahkna as defense minister in such a short time? It is also possible IRL's ministerial positions will be reshuffled once the party elects its new chairman.
Risk of disrupting government's work
Tsahkna will not give up his portfolio voluntarily. It cannot be ruled out that IRL's in-house struggle will leave a more serious mark on the work of the entire government as neither the Center Party nor social democrats are interested in making changes in what is already a trying time.
Chairman of the IRL faction in the Riigikogu Priit Sibul sent a critical letter to Tsahkna before the council meeting in which he accuses the chairman of splitting the party into camps, arbitrary action, and manipulating with public opinion. Sibul wrote on social media on Sunday morning that the council made a conservative choice on Saturday, and that he hopes the same can be said about the results of the upcoming general assembly and management election. When asked whether he would like to see Seeder as the next chairman, Sibul said that Seeder would certainly meet the said criteria sporting conservative views.
He added, however, that the party has not had time to discuss chairman candidates as the council meeting concentrated on other matters.
Sibul said that the May 13 election will signify more than just electing a new chairman. „It is quite logical that the chairman will have to invoke other changes to realize his ideas and convictions that will probably concern political choices and staff,“ he said. The faction chair added, however, that it is too early to talk about these things in more detail today. „I believe things will have become clearer in a week.“
There has been talk of other potential candidates in the party, while none have clear plans at this time. IRL will reveal its chairman candidates officially toward the end of April.
Tsahkna will not run for chairman again. „I've said before that should I be denied the chance to convene the assembly, talk to members, and give them the chance to vote for change, I will not run for chairman again and wish everyone heading back into the fray based on existing rules the best of luck,“ Tsahkna said after the council meeting.
Asked who he would like to see elected chairman, Tsahkna said he would not reveal his stance on the matter. „Let people decide for themselves how the party should move on. I have laid my plan on the table; presently it did not reach members as it died away here in the council,“ he said.
Tsahkna said he wishes the party well, and that he will continue to make efforts so that the national cast of mind would be protected in Estonian politics. „I've spent a long time fighting for these values, and I will not give up here,“ he added.
Foreign policy guru Marko Mihkelson had tied his potential candidacy to Tsahkna's plans being approved in the council from the first. „The council of IRL made decisions that sent the public a single-valued signal – the party does not want change. That is why IRL will elect an obedient master of ceremonies as opposed to a free leader driven by vision. Violent suppression of innovative spirit – for there was no debate – means that I do not deem it possible to run for the board of IRL,“ Mihkelson wrote uncharacteristically sharply on social media after the council meeting.
The council proposed the general assembly discuss amending articles of association based on Kiisler's proposals. Tsahkna's proposals were not supported in most cases.
The only proposal by Tsahkna the council supported would have the council appoint deputy chairmen from among managing committee members following a proposal from the chairman, instead of them being appointed by the general assembly. This would reduce the number of managing committee members from 24 to 21. One of the most decisive general assemblies of the party is set to convene on May 13.