Opposition in Tallinn had higher hopes for SDE in coalition negotiations

Center Party and SDE signing the Tallinn coalition agreement.
Center Party and SDE signing the Tallinn coalition agreement. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Mayoral candidates of other parties that ran in Tallinn in the local government elections in October consider the Center Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) coalition agreement to lack ambition. The opposition politicians said SDE could have been stronger in negotiations and that they are the David to Center's Goliath.

Reform Party mayoral candidate Kristen Michal told ERR that Reform had higher hopes for the coalition agreement. "The agreement was surprisingly weak. I say this because they will keep doing what Center has been doing for a while," Michal said.

He said the word "jätkame" ("we will continue") dominates the coalition agreement, coming up 31 times. "Toetame" ("we will support") comes up 13 times and "laiendame" ("we will extend") comes up nine times.

"This actually shows us how these agreements must be interpreted. The agreement is surprisingly sparse and directed at continuing, there are very few new things," Michal noted.

Eesti 200 Tallinn mayoral candidate Marek Reinaas also found the coalition agreement to describe things already ongoing in the city and lacking new themes. "This coalition agreement mainly speaks about the tasks of Tallinn and then nicely lists what Tallinn has to do. But in large, we can say that Tallinn will continue to operate in the same manner it has so far, meaning there is not much new and innovative in the agreement," Reinaas said.

Isamaa mayoral candidate Urmas Reinsalu was very critical and said the coalition agreement has completely left out important topics such as honest city government and corruption.

"And as has become tradition, Center's earlier unfulfilled promises, which they have already promised for three election cycles - fixing up Linnahall, building a new Kullo center - these are also common," Reinsalu said.

Urmas Reinsalu. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Fighting the coronavirus left in the background

Reinsalu said that he would have liked to see a more specific plan for the battle against the coronavirus in Tallinn, which the city has not done a good job in so far, in his opinion. "It is a shame that it is missing. It has not been put into the coalition agreement by choice or incompetence," the Isamaa politician said.

Kristen Michal echoed Reinsalu and added that the words "aid", "continue" and "proceed" are used to describe the actions in dealing with the biggest issue the state faces. "But a message of city powers doing everything they can to invite people to get vaccinated and cooperating with the Estonian state - it is hard to decipher such a message from the agreement," the Reform candidate said.

A coalition consisting of David and Goliath

Michal and Reinsalu noted that Center as the larger partner will win from being in the coalition and that the Social Democrats will end up with the more complicated and less popular positions. SDE will get three seats in city government to Center's four, but the Social Democrats will only get one district elder spot to Center's seven.

"If we look at the distribution of power, it describes Center's experience well - they proceed on the basis of maximizing their results in the next elections. So they have chosen the most popular district elder seats and have left the SDE deputy mayors the job of handling responsibility," Michal said.

Reinsalu's criticism was even sharper. "It was Center's coalition agreement, I did not see any Social Democrat points in there. /.../ [The coalition agreement] includes Center's main promises, financial benefits, which they promised to certain groups. So we can symptomatically say that the Social Democrats' part is not only implementing policy, but rather taking responsibility for Center's management. And that responsibility is made more comfortable by cozy and fun seats," Reinsalu said.

Michal added that SDE could have stood for their positions more in the agreement. "I think the Social Democrats could have been stronger and asked for more. Especially when it comes to what they were talking about in the elections - changing the urban space, forwarding new messages in education. So if you ask me if the Social Democrats could have been stronger behind the negotiating table - yes, they could have been stronger, they had the opportunity," the Reform politician said.

Kristen Michal. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Urban space and social topics a positive side

Michal said the coalition agreement includes some words on urban space, which affect speeding up the cycle path development and take into account the needs of road users. "But the main street for example, it has been noted as in the old story of the old man at Ülemiste - they will get to it once Tallinn is completed," Michal said.

Reinsalu assessed that the target groups that get financial benefits can be pleased. In addition, he pointed to plans to work on elderly care. "I am completely positive on that topic, it is a serious issue and the care burden is a serious issue. So there were multiple positive aspects," the Isamaa candidate said.

Marek Reinaas considered wage increases for kindergarten teachers and teachers' aids to be positive, along with other education topics. "But we must also say that one of the most burning questions in Tallinn - the study language of schools - they kept everything the way it has been, although they have reworded it," the Eesti 200 politician said.

Reinsalu also pointed out the topic of Estonian and said there is nothing said about the Estonian language and how to protect it and how to implement it in education. "I believe this was a demand Center made, SDE cannot open their mouth on this topic and, well, here we are," Reinsalu said.

Reinaas emphasized that Tallinn having a coalition is already a positive change for residents and Eesti 200 does not have any completely reluctant sections in the coalition agreement. "There was nothing in there that we would have had to oppose completely and nothing that is bad for city residents. In that sense, it is a long-awaited, but weak, coalition agreement, which does not obstruct managing Tallinn," the Eesti 200 candidate noted.

Marek Reinaas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The opposition on the coalition's sustainability

Michal said it is very simple to reach an agreement between two similar parties and negotiations usually bring tension, when the public is critical, critical decisions are required or elections are upcoming.

"But the Social Democrats and Center have a similar voter base in Tallinn. Their draw between each other is also very strong, so that is why tensions and forming new coalitions is possible in breaking points. But I would say that it is a good thing that Tallinn has a coalition government, which means it should be better balanced. And if it turns to another coalition government at some point, that would also be good news, but it is how it is currently. Those who took the responsibility, must now bear it," Michal said.

Reinaas said the 2023 Riigikogu elections might be the first moment things get critical for the coalition. "I think we should attentively follow the 2023 Riigikogu elections and results. If there was something that goes wrong for the coalition, it is that the Riigikogu elections affect Estonian politics enough to reach Tallinn," the Eesti 200 politician said.

"But when it comes to the coalition agreement, there are sections, which are impossible to implement in four years, in my opinion. And there are also no sections, which could bring up a major disagreement. So it is impossible to predict if the coalition will last four years," Reinaas added.

Still, Center's current form of city government can end up derailing the coalition, Reinaas said. "If a similar Center-centric government continues only with the Social Democrats participating, then the ethical nerve of the Social Democrats might not hold on," he said.

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and mayoral candidate Martin Helme did not respond to ERR's queries for a comment on the coalition agreement.

Center won 45.2 percent of the votes and 38 seats of the 79-member city council. Reform won 15 council seats, EKRE won eight, Eesti 200 won seven seats, the Social Democratic Party won six and Isamaa five seats.

This is the first time in four election cycles that Center has not taken at least 40 seats, or the absolute majority and will now need to create a coalition to take power.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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