The power struggle in the opposition Isamaa party is nearing its culmination. Both current chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder and former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling said on Wednesday that they plan to run for chairman.
Perling: Involving members key to success
Former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling is a political newcomer. She became a supporting member of Isamaa’s Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) faction last November and officially joined the party in February. Members have given 170 signatures to support her candidacy and more are expected before the Friday deadline of setting up candidates. Perling’s supporters do not include a single Isamaa MP, except Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits who recently joined the Parempoolsed group.
Seeder’s candidacy was set up with 100 signatures.
Power struggle in full swing
Still, it is too soon for Perling’s supporters to celebrate as only the votes of people who will turn up to the general assembly will count. Parempoolsed would have preferred to option of e-voting. “I believe that we should have enabled online voting to ensure broader in-house democracy. But I hope people are smart and will make their choice, realizing that June 20 will be a watershed moment for Isamaa,” Perling said.
The unveiling of the candidate of the Parempoolsed comes as the culmination of opposition inside Isamaa that has been simmering for some time. Seeder did not rule out evicting head of the in-house faction Kristjan Vanaselja as recently as April.
The row concerned Isamaa’s debate culture good practice document in which members of the Parempoolsed saw an attempt to silence their criticism aimed at how the party was run. “Such bills are characteristic of Viktor Orban and Fidesz,” Vanaselja told Postimees at the time.
In April, the Tartu region of Isamaa decided to accept 403 new members. Most of them came in the wake of founder of the former People’s Will party Madis Sütt who joined Isamaa in January.
Isamaa threw out Sütt after Eesti Päevaleht ran a story on how the party promised to raffle prizes to reward people for joining its ranks. The people who filed for membership following Sütt’s recommendation were also rejected.
Seeder claimed that the party management was unaware of the scheme. The head of the Parempoolsed demanded heads of the Tartu branch take responsibility. “What happened in Tartu was very similar to a recruitment campaign in Pärnu from a few years ago when people with criminal backgrounds were brought to the party. This is not the personal initiative of a few people but rather systematic behavior,” Vanaselja said.
Isamaa’s support rating that is teetering on the verge of the [5 percent] election threshold is nothing to write home about either. Would a new leader deliver a breakthrough here? Perling said that the key to success is involving members and reaching voters through them. “People want to contribute to policymaking, they want to have a voice and express their ideas. They also want to know how state-level decisions are made,” Perling said.
She admitted that meetings with Isamaa members have shown her that the people want to be on board. The chairman candidate also said that Isamaa should be a party with enough courage to table painful decision, whether in terms of economic structure, tax environment, healthcare or education.
Perling said that people expect Isamaa to serve as a balancing and strong right-wing force next to the ruling Reform Party and Center Party. She would not pay too much attention to Isamaa’s main competitor the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE). “EKRE is nothing more than a bunch of populists masquerading as a political party,” she said.
Three main goals
Perling also phrased three goals for Isamaa: to become the leading opposition force, ensure Isamaa’s presence all over Estonia and make it one of the three largest parties in Estonia in time for the 2023 Riigikogu elections. “For this, we need to restart the party organization, bring the party out of its difficult situation and unite members into a single force,” she added.
Recent chairman Seeder criticized the government’s defense cuts plans and emphasized that a party’s success and influence in politics cannot be measured solely based on ratings, saying that actions matter.
“I hope to always remain the kind of politician who consults the best experts in the field, analyzes the material, decides and then explains that decision. Looking at the austerity plan public discussion today, one is left with the impression that the government does not know what it’s doing, what it is cutting and what is the big picture,” Seeder said.
Perling did not say whether she would run in the fall local government council elections and if so then where. “I’m concentrating on the June 20 general assembly today. I believe that we will have a solution for Tallinn should leadership fall to me,” she said.
The Isamaa general assembly will be held in Tartu on June 20. The party is set to elect a new leader, managing committee, revision committee and court of honor and decide on a mayoral candidate for Tallinn.