Samost and Sildam: Has Center lost touch with Ida-Viru County

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Center Party politicians Mailis Reps and Jüri Ratas. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

ERR journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam found in their Sunday "Samost ja Sildam" talk show that one reason the Center Party is losing supporters could be falling out of touch with Ida-Viru County moods.

"If we step into the shoes of people in Ida-Viru County who have to read about how long the oil shale sector has left in Estonia while talk of support measures is vague at best, what are they to think? It is hardly reassuring," Sildam found, adding that Center has done little to alleviate these concerns.

"It seems to have become a pattern where Center lacks a sympathetic ear for Ida-Viru County when making political choices," Samost agreed. "It is peculiar because what other party should have a connection to Ida-Viru County, a direct link to the region?"

Samost said that other parties have constantly put in a very weak showings in Ida-Viru County. Almost all Ida-Viru County MPs have run in the ranks of the Center Party, while Center's Riigikogu group has the most delegates from the region.

"All of it suggests that Center should have had a very clear picture of the reaction of Russian-speaking voters in the county to its statements, decisions and choices when signing the coalition agreement or leading up to 2019 Riigikogu elections. What we can see instead is that no such perception exists," Samost concluded. "There might be a breakdown between the party brass and local politicians that has become evident in recent comments – Ida-Viru County Centrists are less than thrilled about the coalition agreement. They have been modestly critical and vocally so, which is rather unusual for the Center Party," Samost added.

Sildam agreed, saying that it is visible how local moods, Ida-Viru County reality fails to reach leaders on Toompea Hill. "You said that there must be some kind of breakdown and I think that is just it and Center has failed to correctly assess certain matters – on the one hand, it is nice and European to talk about reducing our CO2 footprint, while you have legitimate concerns of local people on the other." he remarked.

It needs to be kept in mind that thousands of [oil shale sector] jobs have already been lost in Ida-Viru County as Eesti Energia laid off a thousand people last year and there have been layoffs in the sector before, Samost said.

The host explained that a situation where the Center Party that used to have 60 percent of Ida-Viru County behind it has reason to fear other parties is definitely new. "This has never happened before," he found.

Sildam pointed out that should another political party – such as the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) – go to Ida-Viru County and promise to fight for everyone in the oil shale sector being able to keep their job, it could prove successful. "Whereas the most paradoxical thing is that EKRE managed to prove as much during their two years in the government," Samost added.

Sildam also pointed out that Center's falling rating could have to do with voters' reaction to it forming a coalition with EKRE in 2019 and with the Reform Party recently.

Samost added that the effect new cases of corruption have had on the party's rating has been almost completely overlooked. "There might be quite a few people who saw Center as having overcome its Savisaarian past of corruption and pro-Russian sentiment and removed corrupt politicians from its ranks under Jüri Ratas. And suddenly, two key members – the secretary general and deputy chairman – have been caught and are suspected of corruption in two separate cases. I am completely certain it has had an effect on Center's rating."

Sildam added another potential reason in that Center is no longer the prime minister's party but a junior partner in the Reform Party's coalition.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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