Marko Mihkelson, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) has told ERR that he will be joining the Reform Party and will stand at the general election in March.
Marko Mihkelson joins Reform Party
Mr. Mihkelson, 48, had been one of three independent MPs up until the announcement. He was previously a member of Isamaa/Pro Patria (then called IRL), first being elected to parliament in 2003. He also ran for the European Parliament in 2004.
''I've decided to join Reform and stand for parliament at the next election, in the Harju and Rapla Counties district'', Mr. Mihkelson told ERR's Toomas Sildam, in an interview.
Mr. Mihkelson's rationale is that the Reform Party matches his own personal convictions and worldview most closely.
''I come from a more right-leaning perspective, and I consider personal freedoms to be paramount and enabling pepole to be enterprising - that the state will allow its citizens to be free and entrepreneurial," he explained.
IRL background not an issue
Mr. Mihkelson does not see any contradiction in joining the more socially liberal Reform Party after having been in the more conservative IRL, as was.
''I can't see how I've made any fundamental changes here,'' he went on.
''When I left IRL I could see that the party had a conservative view which looked more to the past than the future. I also think that people don't primarily follow a political scale in this way so much as choose those candidates who they can trust,'' he continued.
When asked what his role might be as a Reform member, whether continuing as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, or setting his sights on the Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Defence roles [which his background and experience would suit] or even look to the European Parliament, Mr. Mihkelson said that over the next six months he was going to focus on getting a good election result.
"It all depends on what kind of mandate is given to me and the party. Of course, every politician is going to think about his or her future ambitions,'' he said.
''An individual may have some kind of target position, but in the end it all depends on what happens at the elections and how the government is made up,'' he added.
Why not Estonia 200?
When asked why he didn't join the new-ish political movement Estonia 200, which includes former Minister of Defence Margus Tsahkna in its ranks, Mr. Mihkelson reiterated that Reform is the best fit for him.
''I know the Estonia 200 people well,'' he said.
''I left IRL at the same time as Margus Tsahkna, we have been close associates in the Riigikogu and share many similar views,'' he continued.
''However, have I opted for Reform,'' he stated.
At the same time, Mr. Mihkelson welcomed the advent of Estonia 200 and thinks it a positive force in Estonian politics, whose calm and forward-looking debates will be beneficial as a whole. Moreover, Mr. Mihkelson says, Estonia 200 will not erode the Reform Party's voter base, but rather mop up previously uncommitted voters instead.
Marko Mihkelson stood for the IRL in the largest electoral district, Harju and Rapla Counties, polling 2,842 votes. He left IRL, now rebranded Isamaa/Pro Patria, in June 2017.
Prior to politics, Mr. Mihkelson worked at daily Postimees in various positions and as director of the Baltic Research Center
Toomas Sildam's extended interview with Marko Mihkelson is set to be available in Estonian on Tuesday afternoon.