ERR News broadcast: Greening of Ida-Viru County costing Center support

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Tõnis Stamberg (center) flanked by ERR's Anvar Samost and Urmet Kook, on Thursday's edition of "Otse uudistemajast". Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The largest single factor in a decline in support for the coalition Center Party among Russian-speaking voters is job insecurity in Ida-Viru County, market research firm Turu-uuringute analyst Tõnis Stamberg says.

Appearing on ERR politics discussion show "Otse uudistemajast" Thursday, Stamberg noted that moves towards greener energy production were behind the consternation in Ida-Viru County, Estonia's easternmost region and the center of oil shale mining and industrial use dating back to the first Estonian republic, and since the Soviet era home to a large proportion of the country's Russian-speaking demographic.

While falling support for center with this sector of society was evident even at the March 2019 general election, a recent Turu-uuringute survey revealed support for Center at 43 percent among voters of other nationalities, referring primarily to native Russian-speakers, which is a record low. By comparison, the rate has in the past exceeded 80 percent, Stamberg said.

Another factor is the new coalition with Reform, agreed last weekend, Stamberg said.

Reform still associated with Bronze Soldier statue removal

Reform were in office when a Bronze Soviet-era military statue was removed from its location in central Tallinn in 2007, a move which prompted protests and several nights' rioting, and many Russian-speaking voters have not forgotten this, he said.

Stamberg also said that no sufficient plan is in place to mitigate job losses and other economic effects that the end of the oil shale industry would bring, noting that the EU's fair transition fund was not enough to compensate for the energy sector economy.

Head of News and Sport at ERR Anvar Samost, also appearing on the show, said that the coalition may even have put off some Estonian-speaking former Center voters, particularly in rural areas.

Center ditching marriage referendum also costing it support

The issue of the now-ditched marriage referendum has played a part too, both Stamberg and Sildam noted, since both Russian-speaking voters and, often, Center voters in general are generally socially conservative. While Center was in office with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa when the referendum bill was tabled – and proposed by all three parties jointly – it has since ditched the idea.

Nonetheless, both commentators expected Center to work on its core electorate ahead of autumn's local elections, with Stamberg expecting EKRE to do the same. EKRE has in fact seen a growth in support from the Russian-speaking electorate, largely due to its stance on the marriage issue (the referendum bill was an EKRE policy which it got into the coalition agreement signed in April 2019 – ed.).

Eesti 200 support levels harmed by Reform entering government

Reform ascending to office has also made a dent in support for non-parliamentary party Eesti 200, head of ERR portals Urmet Kook, also appearing on "Otse uudistemajast", said.

The party had seen several weeks of strong growth in opinion polls, rising to third place ahead of EKRE at one point, but graph more recently leveled off and then, from this week, started to decline.

Kook said that Reform in office has prompted those sitting on the fence who might otherwise support Eesti 200 – formed in 2018 and led by Kristina Kallas (no relation of Kaja-ed.) – to plump for Reform after all, while Eesti 200s support had been somewhat of a protest against the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, and in this way its function has finished.

SDE remains in opposition

While Isamaa has also see its support only a little above the 5 percent threshold needed for Riigikogu seats at an election, the other opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDE), has it even worse, Anvar Samost said.

"They will likely be the only party that has been in opposition [at the Rigiikogu] through the entire election cycle," Samost said.

Last in office with Center and Isamaa, following the March 2019 general election, SDE found itself in opposition, with the recent coalition deal between Reform and Center not changing any of that.

Being in opposition alongside the conservative Isamaa, still more so EKRE, might prove a challenge for the party, he added, while Tõnis Stamberg questioned if the party will win any Tallinn City Council seats in autumn, not least since a key member, Rainer Vakra, is leaving politics.

While SDE was in Riigikogu opposition with Reform, from April 2019 until this month, the two parties were largely united, particularly on social issues such as the marriage referendum.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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