Common angle may get parties out of trenches in Tallinn

Center Party board meeting on Sunday, August 22, where the party voted in favor of Alar Karis as presidential candidate.
Center Party board meeting on Sunday, August 22, where the party voted in favor of Alar Karis as presidential candidate. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In the run-up to the local elections, the biggest political opponents in Tallinn are also talking about the possibility of coming to an agreement. However, only the right-wing parties have expressed a clear desire to overturn the current status quo.

"Clean the place!" big, light blue ads have made an appearance for Isamaa. Whereas in 1992 an electoral coalition of the same name promised to expel the communist collaborators after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the resurrected slogan is aimed at the exclusive power of the Center Party in Tallinn.

Urmas Reinsalu, candidate for mayor from the Isamaa party, believes that the termination of exclusive power alone is not enough, and that Tallinn needs a more fundamental change.

"These corruption schemes, these amounts have increased," Reinsalu said. "It used to be about millions of kroons (the fomer Estonian currency), now there are already millions of euros in these schemes. A clear start is needed here."

Martin Helme, the mayoral candidate from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), agrees. "The main issue at these elections is whether Tallinn will continue on its present course and will continue on this course even if the Center Party manages to find a coalition partner, if someone is taken as a 'younger brother', or Tallinn makes a fundamental change of direction and the Center Party is sent to the opposition for a change," Helme discussed.

It is also not impossible that the role of the younger brother is offered by EKRE, the most preferred party of the elections. In the city budget votes, EKRE has put it on its shoulders even without the Center Party needing it.

"If you get your proposals into the budget, it is not rational to vote down that budget," Helme said. "It is certainly not worth drawing any comprehensive conclusions from the budget vote about what the next coalition will be like."

However, Helme says that he does not exclude anyone. "In essence, I say the same about the Center Party, but politically we have no interest in helping the Center Party to power in Tallinn."

Urmas Reinsalu assumed that the role of the younger brother would be offered to the Isamaa Party last - when everyone else has already said "no".

"If such a situation arises that the Isamaa is what decides whether Mihhail Kõlvart's city leadership will continue or that there is an alternative to the united opposition, then, of course, Isamaa's clear message would be that we would like the united opposition city government," Reinsalu said.

Social Democrats and EKRE do not exclude each other as coalition partners

The two right-wing parties are not enough for such a coalition. Urmas Reinsalu wants other parties to express support for the "united opposition". But others are going to wait and see.

Raimond Kaljulaid, the candidate for mayor of the Social Democrats, said that he does not exclude anyone, neither the Center Party nor EKRE.

"I think it would be a big mistake to repeat the situation that occurred before elections in 2019, where the parties mainly talked about whether they are ready to cooperate with one party or not," Kaljulaid explained. "It was all water for the EKRE mill and I am not going to start the EKRE campaign for them."

At the beginning of last year, Kaljulaid was a lot more direct. After Helve Särgava was expelled from the Social Democrats, Kaljulaid turned to the Reform Party and called on them to abandon the plan to cooperate with EKRE.

"We continue to find that the readiness of the Reform Party to bring far-right populists to power in the capital of the Republic of Estonia is particularly problematic," Kaljulaid wrote on social media.

Kaljulaid said on Thursday that this is not an important issue at all. He said that it is much more important that the Center Party does not secure exclusive power in Tallinn again.

"We are focusing on making negotiations possible after the elections. And in order to achieve this goal, all opposition parties running in Tallinn must do well," Kaljulaid noted.

Marek Reinaas, Eesti 200 mayoral candidate, believes that ideology plays a much smaller role in the division of Tallinn's city power than in parliamentary politics. He also said that we need to talk to everyone, including EKRE, whom Estonia 200 is otherwise quite critical of.

Reinaas cited, for example, the desire of his home party to give larger budgets and more decision-making freedom to districts. "And if EKRE approves this idea, and we can't say now that because you are ideologically somewhere on the other side of ours, we can't implement it," Reinaas said.

Martin Helme also said that there is less ideology in municipal issues than at the state level. "But this, of course, presupposes that if we sit down and start agreeing on various program goals, they are willing to come to an agreement. I think there is a will," Helme added.

Reinaas believes in an agreement between the Reform Party and the Center Party

Despite the willingness of all opposition parties to negotiate, Reinaas does not consider a broad coalition likely. "Anyone who can read between the lines can understand that, in principle, it can be said that an agreement between the Center Party and the Reform Party has probably been reached for the elections.

Kristen Michal, the candidate for mayor of the Reform party, said again that any speculation about possible coalitions is pointless at the moment.

"We have taken the position that we will discuss possible issues of cooperation exactly the day after the people have been given a mandate and it is clear who is in the council," Michal stressed on almost every issue that went beyond the election.

So Michal is not promising support to anyone at the moment and is not ready to exclude anyone. He noted that the problem of Tallinn is not so much the power of the Center Party, but the sole power of one party.

"I think any coalition is better than continuing sole power in any case," Michal said. "I think that's what the Center Party themselves actually think because it's tiring. That responsibility is quite big and the problems are quite big."

In other words, not only the communication between the Social Democrats and EKRE has become more tolerant over time, but also the views of the Reform Party towards the Center Party. In September 2017, when Taavi Aas was the candidate for mayor of the Central Party, Michal was a lot more direct.

"The reform team represents those who want the Center Party gone. Those who agree to keep the Center Party in power with cooperation don't offer an alternative to the people of Tallinn or our voters," Michal said at the time.

Now Michal said that on the one hand, the Center Party has changed, on the other hand, the cooperation between the two parties at the management of the state plays a role.

"If in the past the Center Party has still strongly opposed, for example, our idea of ​​losing the place fee for a nursery place, then during the crisis they met us halfway and it happened in other cities as well," Michal noted. "So maybe here too, on a personal level, we have gotten along better with the mayor and respect each other, despite the fact that one is in opposition and the other is in a coalition."


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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