TALLINN - After months of speculation and expectation by political experts, Estonia's two right-wing parties have officially merged. The annual general meetings of both Res Publica and Pro Patria Union signed off on the parties' merger in Parnu on June 4. The new party will be known as The Union of Pro Patria Union and Res Publica.
The new force hopes to capitalize on the unpopularity of controversial Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar and keep him from power. The search is now on for a leader of the combined party, with former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar shaping as a likely contender. The new party is currently being led by two co-chairmen, the leaders of the old parties, Taavi Veskimagi and Tonis Lukas. A single leader and prime ministerial candidate will be named before Midsummer's Day on June 24.
"We need a candidate who has the party's face and will lead us to a good outcome in the elections," Lukas told reporters.
Veskimagi told the party meeting that the merger would leave a less fragmented political spectrum in Estonia.
"If someone is still asking why Res Publica and Pro Patria Union have to join forces, then the answer is unambiguous. Our duty is to prevent the coming to power of the leftists... in the next parliamentary elections," Veskimagi said.
There was little internal resistance to the merger. The weekend meeting saw 354 votes in favor, 13 against and 3 abstentions.
The new party now holds 32 seats in the Riigikogu, Estonia's 101-seat Parliament.
Among its goals is to block the rise of Savisaar, whose outspoken opinions have polarized Estonian voters. Still, his Center Party remains the most powerful force in national politics, with a strong presence in the ruling coalition and singlehandedly dominating Tallinn's City Council.
Tartu University political science lecturer Rein Toomla believes this could be a dangerous approach.
"Savisaar has a lot of enemies, but he also has a lot of supporters," Toomla said. "The same can also be said about Mart Laar, who is one possible leader of the new party."
He predicted that the new Union would attract between 10 and 12 percent of the vote.
The Center Party could muster up to 30 percent at the next election, possibly delivering Savisaar the prime ministership, Toomla said.