Coalition popularity very low, Center Party tops poll

The Center Party is now the most popular (ERR)
5/15/2015 2:49 PM
Category: Politics

According to the latest poll, the three parties in the coalition government have all lost popularity. The biggest losers are the Reform Party and IRL.

The popularity of the government-leading Reform Party is down by 9 percentage points since March and only 19 percent of the polled voters now back the party.

IRL has a reason to be even more concerned, however. In what is the worst result since the party was founded in 2006, after Pro Patria Union and Res Publica parties merged, only 8 percent of voters now support the center-right political force. By comparison, Free Party, which was established by a number of dissatisfied former members of IRL in 2013 – and which won 8 seats at the last Parliament election – is now more popular then ever, at 18 percent. This makes the Free Party currently the third most popular political affiliation in the country.

Free Party's surging popularity has raised acute questions about IRL's future prospects, as the two parties partly share similar voter base. IRL will elect a new head in June, with Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna currently the favorite. Tsahkna has already indicated in an interview with Delfi that under his leadership, IRL would return to some of the values and ideology that was represented by former Pro Patria Union – the party of former Prime Minister Mart Laar and with roots dating back to the Singing Revolution.

The Social Democrats have kept their approval rating more stable – at 17 percent, compared to 18 percent a month earlier. Despite this, the party is doing some soul-searching, with former Education Minister and now an MP Jevgeni Ossinovski announcing his decision to stand for the party leader this week, and Minister of Entrepreneurship Urve Palo openly criticizing the coalition government's plan to raise VAT on hotels.

By far the most popular party now is the Center Party, which would gather 26 percent of the votes if election took place tomorrow, a gain of two percentage points from last month. The party is in the opposition and has largely avoided any scandals recently. Its controversial leader Edgar Savisaar, who was taken ill in March and is still recovering in a hospital, has been out of spotlight and his deputy, relatively young Kadri Simson, is currently in charge.

The far-right Conservative People's Party (EKRE) also lost support and now has the backing of 8 percent of the voters.

Coalition troubles

The coalition has suffered from mounting criticism, both from left and right. Most of the disagreement from the voters and opinion leaders concerns the government's plan to raise excise taxes on fuel, which would affect most of the population. Another issues is the planned VAT rise on accommodation services.

The Reform Party has also been heavily criticized for a perceived lack of democracy, both externally and internally. Kaja Kallas MEP has penned a couple of letters aimed at the Reform Party – which her father Siim Kallas co-founded in 1994 – in which she criticized the way her party's affairs are conducted and called for more transparency. Similar statement was issued by a former Reform Party MP Rain Maruste. Former Prime Minister and now a European Commissioner Andrus Ansip said that the entire negotiating process between the coalition partners – the Reform Party, the Social Democrats and IRL – should have been more transparent and open to public, which would have avoided unpleasant surprises, such as the fuel duty hike, later.

The Estonian media has increasingly also drawn attention to the fact that a former Reform Party MP Rain Rosimannus, the husband of Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, is playing a disproportionally large part for an unelected individual in the Reform Party and government affairs. Rosimannus is noted for his “grey eminence“, a reference to a decision-maker who operates behind the scenes. Indrek Tarand MEP went as far as to call Rosimannus "a threat to Estonia's security".

However, the Reform Party has been in lower echelons of popularity polls before – yet bounced back in time for elections.

The results of ERR-commissioned ratings will be published tomorrow.

S. Tambur

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