Indrek Kiisler: Forget about a broad-based coalition in Tallinn

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

I'm sure no one doubts that the Center Party will win the local election in Tallinn. Whereas I believe that [Mayor] Mihhail Kõlvart will propose a coalition first to the Reform Party even should Center retain its absolute majority in the city council, Indrek Kiisler finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

The Center Party has ruled alone in Tallinn since the 2005 election. The opposition in the capital has been singing the same tune of ending Center's hegemony and overthrowing Tallinn's corrupt rulers since the 2009 election, through 2013, 2017, and is at it again in 2021. While Center might lose its absolute majority this time around, major changes do not seem to be in the pipeline regardless.

Center being left without its absolute majority is possible as the party is today losing its appeal in the eyes of voters all over Estonia. This appeal in great part stems from a time when Center supporters were largely people who did not trust public authority and social contracts. They found everything to be almost completely wrong in Estonia.

[Former Center leader] Edgar Savisaar knew how to rile up his voters using a plethora of tricks, while this mission has now been transferred to the Helme political family and their Conservative People's Party (EKRE). As a result, the electorate in Tallinn is more fragmented than ever.

Center will, of course, resort to its trump card of nationality-based antagonism eventually. Russian voters will be left with no doubt that only their vote can save Russian-language education in the capital. It will also be emphasized how Center has helped many Russian-speaking people pursue careers in the city and the party, which is incidentally entirely true.

That said, all of this will be done in knowing that the opposition has all but abandoned its demand of switching to teaching in Estonian. Even EKRE has found an unexpectedly peculiar angle in basically supporting the perpetuation of Russian-language education in Estonia. Creating a uniform Estonian school in Tallinn in 2021 is deemed to be impossible due to the claimed Russification of the capital's Estonians. It is among the most ingenious empty slogans of Estonian politics from recent years, bringing together Estonian and Russian radical nationalists.

The most active Center opponent today seems to be Isamaa with the famous election slogan "Plats puhtaks!" (Sweep the Square) which hails from 1992. We are treated to a piece of living history, with the portrait of Lagle Parek used to mobilize Isamaa voters for nigh on 30 years now. It is a nostalgia flirt that, coupled with a timely contribution from major sponsors, will help Isamaa cross the election threshold once more. In other words, the party will pull off what it always does, which in yet other words means it will do better than expected.

It is likely that Eesti 200 and the Social Democrat Party will also make the cut in Tallinn. Both are fighting for the same voter group, having lost all hope of ever becoming broad-based political forces. They see as their voters younger people with higher education and a respectable income. At least that is who their slogans are aimed at.

This is most evident looking at the district of Põhja-Tallinn (North Tallinn) – an up-and-coming area increasingly popular with educated young people who have money to spend. Still, the majority of the district's residents are Russian-speaking people with rather modest means living in decades-old panel buildings.

What are the main messages of Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats (SDE)? Mainly the green turn and innovation as that are what their target group of voters expects and understands. The new residents of subdistricts like Kalamaja consider bicycle paths or rather lack thereof to be the number one problem in the capital. While the parties will make the city council by promising to address such concerns, they would also have to try and engage the Russians in old Kopli apartment buildings to go further.

The Reform Party has launched its campaign safe in the knowledge they are the first choice of partners for the remaining participants. Choosing its words carefully and maintaining a cautious line, the Reform Party is a suitable match for everyone, from the Center Party right down to EKRE. Their place in a potential coalition government seems to be all but decided. Experienced reformists know that it is easier to share power with pragmatic parties not clinging to ideology, meaning Center would likely be their first choice. Nothing of the sort is said out loud, of course.

The underlying calculation is pragmatic and simple: why even attempt a grand coalition? No one really believes the Reform Party, SDE, EKRE, Eesti 200 and Isamaa capable of smoothly running things together for many years. Scandals and misunderstandings would be a given in any such association.

Just as no one really doubts Center taking the most votes in the capital, I believe that [Mayor] Mihhail Kõlvart will propose a coalition first to the Reform Party even should Center retain its absolute majority in the city council. Whereas the offer will come from a position of power, much like those made by Reformist Mayor Urmas Klaas in Tartu, with partners replaced quickly and with little fuss if necessary.

Kõlvart has also done a lot to make a coalition government a possibility in Tallinn. The city apparatus has been reformed and the current mayor's style is in no way reminiscent of Savisaar who was only interested in political gain he could pump out of the capital, as opposed to doing municipal work.

Kõlvart has also demonstrated himself to be capable of cooperation, managing to win over leading opposition figures by wielding job opportunities that are too good to miss. For example, could you imagine Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) inviting opposition leaders like Martin Helme or Urmas Reinsalu to come work for her in the Government Office? And yet, Kõlvart has pulled off something similar, with former fierce critics of the city government Mart Luik and Rainer Vakra now sitting meekly on the city's payroll.

Kõlvart has also removed several unpleasant obstacles in terms of forming a coalition. For example, packing up the infamous Tallinn Television. The capital no longer has a municipal store, with all efforts to develop and waste money on structures to mirror state-level alternatives now put to bed. The idea of Tallinn having its own bank has also been dropped. Examples of the old guard of Centrist city administration, such as Kalle Klandorf, are pushed aside where necessary.

That is to say that, ironically, the square has already been swept to make room for a Center-Reform coalition in Tallinn. The latter is lent strength by the consolidation of the same coalition on Toompea Hill. But will we see a fundamental change in the way the capital is run? Hardly.

A good example of this is Tartu where the Reform Party has switched partners as need dictates. Have the people of Tartu perceived changes in the way the city is run? Hardly.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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