One hundred and eleven members of the coalition Isamaa party unveiled a political association called Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) on Thursday. While there is no talk of an in-house opposition, statements by the new association’s spokespeople reveal a dissatisfaction with Isamaa’s mainstream.
The news caused a minor eruption on the political landscape on Thursday. The reason is not the birth of yet another political association. Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder pointed out that the party has around ten such groups and that an association to support family policy was also created on Thursday.
“All of it is aimed at giving members a chance to be involved in shaping the party’s policy and observe the principles we approved at a general meeting a few years ago,” Seeder said, adding that he has been indirectly involved with the emergence of the Parempoolsed. He added that he can only welcome the initiative, trying to nip rumors of an organized in-house opposition in the bud.
While the founding of the association is not a sign of discord in the party by itself, items that make up its manifesto and comments by spokespeople are a different matter. The latter include more than a few points that seem to clash with the current government’s rhetoric and positions.
Parempoolsed are clearly opposed to the idea of holding a referendum to define the institution of marriage in the constitution, while they promote smart migration and greater openness. This was pointed out by member of the board of the opposition Reform Party Kristen Michal who recognized in the manifesto’s authors kindred spirits.
“The question is whether they really mean it or whether it’s a political technological trick to take to the negotiating table to be able to say there is another wing of Isamaa that needs to be given something. If they are serious and should we see the association grow big enough to be thrown out of Isamaa at one point, I believe the Reform Party would welcome them. And I say this with no hint of arrogance.”
Spokesperson for the new association, former Jõgeva mayor Mihkel Kübar said that what frustrates them the most about the government and Isamaa is the practice of fine-tuning. The expression was first adopted by then PM Taavi Rõivas (Reform) and was interpreted by critics as inability to see the big picture.
“I would not characterize us as in-house opposition at Isamaa but rather as a movement to expand the right-wing worldview inside the party,” Kübar said, nevertheless hinting that members are dissatisfied with the course Isamaa has plotted in recent years.
“As a right-wing people’s party, we [Isamaa] have been leaning toward Christian democracy on niche issues. I believe that the topics we emphasize – climate policy, economic development, democracy, rule of law, legal order, innovation – have taken a back seat in the party.”
Kristen Michal said he hopes that the Parempoolsed will go beyond words and gave as a cautionary example then Isamaa chairman Margus Tsahkna’s failed attempt to plot a new course for the party in early 2016.
“If this is just hot air then it will be a repeat of Tsahkna’s speech at the Estonian National Museum where he showcased the Isamaa 2.0 initiative and talked about an innovative swallow. It started in a museum and that is also where it ended up. There is hope if words are followed by action, while there is none if they are not.”
Spokesperson for the Parempoolsed Kaido Kukk, has Isamaa failed to pursue a right-wing policy? Why create such as association?
We want to focus on right-wing policy inside the party but also more broadly in Estonian politics. Policies that have brought our success seem to be moving backwards today. There is a lot of talk of confrontation, at the same time, there is widespread redistribution. We seem to lack the kind of moderate rightism we had a decade ago.
What are you planning to do that cannot be done under the aegis of Isamaa?
Our main goal is to channel and enrich the party’s policy. We unite likeminded members who share the values outlined in our manifesto.
The founding of the Parempoolsed should not be seen as a sign of in-house opposition?
I would not call it opposition. We are an open organization that has its own values and principles, as well as an understanding of how Estonia should proceed. We see that Estonian politics has started to veer off the right path, into extremism – whether it’s left-wing or right-wing extremism. We want to represent voters who are moderate, enterprising and sport a right-wing worldview. People who fit that description have very little choice in Estonian politics – Isamaa could become that party again.
You said in your press release that the Reform Party has abandoned right-wing ideology. What did you mean?
What we mean is in very general terms. The Reform Party is no longer what it was under Siim Kallas who stood up for business interests and mainly addressed economic issues. Reform has become a mainstream party that lacks a clear ideology.
How is EKRE doing in terms of occupying the right-wing niche?
Let’s say that Isamaa’s Parempoolsed have no connection to the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE). They are flirting with extremism, while we represent moderate rightism. We are very pro-West and pro-European.