The three new Riigikogu opposition parties not likely to cooperate heavily

The three parties which will make up the XV Riigikogu, once it is sworn in, the Center Party, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, are unlikely to recreate a coalition-in-opposition, and will instead ply their own party lines, leading members say.

At the same time, while EKRE and Isamaa seem to have fallen out of love with each other, the Center Party may take a pragmatic approach to cooperation.

Andre Hanimägi, the Center Party’s secretary general, told ETV news show “Aktuaalne kaamera” (AK) that every political party has issues they wish to stand up for.

He said: “For example, Isamaa and EKRE are quite lukewarm about the abolition of free public transport, but in Center’s opinion, this would be a very wrong move, and we are ready to fight for that in the Riigikogu as well.”

Free public transport has been on offer to Tallinn residents for around a decade now, and is also provided in other parts of the country, particularly on county bus lines, but now faces pressure from the coalition-in-waiting.

Isamaa’s vice-chair and outgoing Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman said: “It is key for us to transition to education in Estonian, and to make amendments to the Language Act, so that our language and culture will be preserved.”

“We have initiated all the family benefits and child support policies. We’re pushing our party line forward. If we take a look at who is in the opposition – we have the Center Party and EKRE, both of which have actually tried to speak to the Russian-speaking population in the elections, so then we do not tend to have common ground there,” Solman went on.

EKRE Chair Martin Helme said that Isamaa does not want to cooperate with his party is not a bitter pill to swallow.

“In fact, it rather puts grin on my face,” Helme told AK.

“I don’t think this story is sincere in the first place. Second, I think it’s kind of acting out the pain of a distrupted loss, in the wrong places. This talk that they performed poorly in the elections because they had been in office with us is not empirically true, but everyone comforts themselves as best they can,” he went on.

The three parties were in office together from April 2019 to January 2021, in a coalition known as EKRE-I-KE in shorthand.

While Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder told the party’s board at a meeting Saturday that the association with EKRE had cast a shadow on his party, reiterating comments he had made earlier in the week, Center’s Andre Hanimägi told AK that EKRE had promulgated rhetoric which was “not appropriate,” though he also left the door open for some cooperation in opposition at the Riigikogu.

“I very much hope that there will be some constructive cooperation with EKRE, and a reasonable discussion in parliament. They have a lot of good MPs, but much depends on them,” Hanimägi said.

Martin Helme for his part said that an opposition in any case does not need to maintain a consistent line on all issues, though some do need consensus.

As an example of the latter, Helme mentioned filling the committee vice-chair posts and the second Riigikogu vice president, all posts which generally go to opposition MPs.

While a deal has not been signed yet, the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition, thus far touted as an all-liberal alliance, is seen as a fait accompli given the three parties have 60 seats between them, and no major worldview issue clashes.

Isamaa’s seats tally went from 12 to eight, after the March 5 election, and the party is now the smallest by Riigikogu representation. Center, too, saw a significant drop in seats, from 26 (won in 2019 – the party was down to 23 by the eve of the 2023 election) to 16, while EKRE lost two seats, and now has 17.

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