Analyst: Center gelling into party of Tallinn, Ida-Viru County

Martin Mölder.
Martin Mölder. Source: Maili Vilson/

High profile departures from the Center Party in the wake of Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart becoming leader have generally come as no surprise to one expert, who says the party is becoming concentrated in two, albeit key, areas of the country – Tallinn, and Ida-Viru County.

University of Tartu political scientist Martin Mölder found the departure of the party's former Riigikogu whip Jaanus Karilaid to be "logical," though since today's announcement that former environment minister Tõnis Mölder came as slightly more of a surprise to Martin Mölder, the latter could not rule out further cases of people leaving.

Both Karilaid and Tõnis Mölder have joined Isamaa.

At the same time, exoduses from political parties at certain times are not unheard of, Martin Mölder (no relation) added.

He said: "Center, it is worth recalling, has always been the kind of party where there have been quite a few people who have left for other parties in the middle of the parliamentary term."

The last Riigikogu elections were only in March, meaning we have three-and-a-half years until the next one.

However, it is normal for a coalition administration to exit office and be replaced by a new one at least once during that cycle (between 2019 and 2023 there were three different administrations, in fact – ed.).

One thing that may have changed, the analyst went on, is that whereas the Center Party of yore had a quite extensive roster of replacements when people did leave, this is not so much the case nowadays.

This in turn may be followed by Center consolidating in its core areas, at the expense of the rest of the country.

"Maybe I am not that familiar with what goes on behind the scenes, but at the moment I get the impression that the Center Party is becoming more and more the party of Tallinn and Ida-Viru County, dominated by politicians who have gained a position or patronage, in one way or another, from those regions alone," Mölder went on.

Center councilors in Narva, Ida-Viru County, recently moved to vote out-of-office the town's high-profile mayor, Katri Raik (SDE), amid a situation where, due to local council opposition or indifference, the state has had to carry out the removal, renaming or relocation of inappropriate Soviet-era relics, such as monuments and streets named after obscure Red Army soldiers.

This did not mean that Center had yet become purely a "Russian party" he added.

"They still have more Estonian supporters than Russian ones," he added.

While Center traditionally drew plenty of support from the Russian-speaking populace of Estonia, its leadership had always been ethnic Estonian, and it had performed well in other parts of the country, for instance in the Southeast.

Another important consideration which goes beyond the above is that the departures of two MPs from Center's ranks – other high-profile figures to have quit the party, such as senior defense forces reserve officer Neeme Väli were not sitting MPs – affects the math of potential coalition alignments.

While as noted there will not be a Riigikogu election until 2027, any new coalition government would still require a 51-seat or more majority at the 101-seat chamber.

Center is now weakened to the extent that, even in the unlikely event of both parties wanting it, a recreation of the Reform-Center bipartite administration in office January 2021-June 2022 would now only just scrape that majority, with no leeway for any other quitters from Center (or Reform for that matter).

Reform retains its 37 seats, but Center now has 14, down from the 16 it won on March 5, itself a significant diminution of the tally it had before the election (26).

A 51-seat coalition would be on the back-foot from the outset; for instance the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition has 60 seats all told.

Conversely, Isamaa has been the net beneficiary so far, improving its chances of reentering office, including in its traditional "kingmaker" role.

Isamaa has also overtaken the Social Democrats (SDE), who are now the smallest party by representation, at nine seats.

Thus far, these changes have not altered the mathematical possibilities (leaving aside ideological issues) of alternative coalition lineups, but a continued exodus of Center MPs might do.

Back in late 2018/early 2019, the-then Center-SDE-Isamaa coalition soldiered on actually with a slight minority after members left Center and SDE; in that case, there were half-a-dozen "window seat" MPs, referring to the location in the Riigikogu's hall where independent MPs sit.

A further detail is that such independents can actually vote with a specific party before or without joining it. For instance Raimond Kaljulaid did this on quitting Center for SDE in 2019.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Huko Aaspõllu

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