In an appearance on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday, Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas said that the pre-election cockfight between the Reform Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has been agreed between them, but that voters can see through it. Ratas predicted that it will take just 23-26 mandates to win the Riigikogu elections next March, which Center is out to earn as well.
"Voters can see through this sort of cockfight or agreed-on cooperation between the Reform Party and EKRE, where one hackles the other and vice versa," Ratas said. "It's plain to see that this has been agreed on — first it's one's council, and then the other's responds. But voters are reasonable and can understand that this antagonism won't get us anywhere."
He added that the Center Party on its part responds with substantive proposals, citing as an example a bill in the works that would provide for extraordinary pension increases that would boost the average old age pension to €1,000 in four years.
"But we aren't participating in this cockfight," he continued. "Let them keep fighting. We can make substantive changes. The realistic alternative following the next elections is whether a government will be formed by the Reform Party or the Center Party."
Ratas predicted that six political parties will get elected to the Riigikogu next March, and it will take 23-26 of the Riigikogu's 101 seats to secure an election win.
"I don't think there are any parties that will win more than 30 seats," he said. "It's not the Center Party's style to take out Tallinn Hospital and the Rohuküla railway in a month of governing with five ministers. I don't think it's right to attempt to shape the opinion that the Reform Party's opinion is the Estonian state's opinion. That attitude is going to come back to haunt them in the elections."
The Center Party chair sharply criticized the approach with which the current government intends to transition to a fully Estonian-language education system, saying that it has no regard for reality and is going to lead to problems in other schools as well, including Estonian-language ones.
"If we plan a transition to Estonian-language education based on just one headline, which includes a date, then we're doomed from the start," he said. "We're currently short 700 teachers, and will be short 2,500-3,000 in the following years, as many will be retiring or don't meet requirements. It's not feasible to transition to Estonian-language education with such steps."
As the government is promising higher pay to teachers in Ida-Viru County, Ratas believes this could result in a situation where schools and education in other parts of the country suffer as a result.
"Where will these teachers be coming from?" he asked. "Tallinn, Viljandi and Tartu. The quality of education here will go down, meaning Estonian-language schools will suffer. The number of teachers simply cannot be increased that much in just a year or two. We're seeing 40-50 new teachers a year. Which is why I'm saying that we cannot transition to Estonian-language education on the basis of a bold headline alone. This is similar to when they said in the spring that all children from Ukraine must be enrolled in Estonian-language schools, but the reality is that many of them are currently excluded from the education system altogether."
Russian-language voters not all the same
Ratas said that there currently exists a significant percentage of voters who don't have a specific party preference or who have been disappointed by their previous preference. He acknowledged that the Center Party has lost both Estonian- and Russian-speaking voters as well.
"40 percent support [among voters with other native languages] is high too, but that can be improved as well, of course," he said. "But there's also potential for us to improve our support among those voters whose native language is Estonian as well. In better days, our support there was 18-19 percent, but it's currently significantly below that."
Editor: Aili Vahtla