While the exodus from the Center Party also weakens its position in Tallinn, the Social Democrats (SDE) don't intend to pull out of their ruling alliance with the former in Estonian capital, said Tallinn City Council SDE whip Jevgeni Ossinovski. The opposition believes it would be difficult to form a new alliance as well.
This Friday, Tallinn City Council members Tanel Kiik and Andre Hanimägi announced that they were resigning from the Center Party and would be joining the SDE. Kiik and Hanimägi switching city council groups won't affect the balance of power in city council, as they will be moving laterally within the capital's ruling Center-SDE alliance and coalition votes will remain the same.
According to Ossinovski, Kiik and Hanimägi's decision won't impact the coalition in Tallinn. "As a result, we will continue working in accordance with the decision of the [SDE's] Tallinn chapter and continue working [together with Center]," he said in appearance on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" early Friday afternoon.
Ossinovski acknowledged that there are Social Democrats in Tallinn who are thinking along the same lines as SDE Tallinn chapter chair Raimond Kaljulaid. This week, Kaljulaid suggested that they should form a ruling alliance without Center in Tallinn, adding that if not now, when?
"Raimond's understanding of this matter isn't overly surprising," the party's city council whip said. "There are those [thinking the same thing], but I'm proceeding based on the fact that we have a functioning coalition, and based on the Tallinn chapter's decision."
At the same time, the Center Party's continued abandonment by its own members has once again called into question whether the party's position of power in the Estonian capital is weakening and may provide other parties with an opportunity.
According to Ossinovski, it's up to the Center Party themselves to keep their city council group together, because if their ranks should continue to dwindle further, it could actually start causing problems for the ruling alliance.
"We have been following with some concern how the Center Party hasn't managed to maintain order in its ranks over [the past] half a year, and how that has reduced the number of coalition votes from 45 to 43, if I'm not mistaken," he said, adding that Center stemming the tide will also impact whether Mihhail Kõlvart will remain in office as mayor of Tallinn through the next local elections or not.
Following Kiik and Hanimägi's departure, Center's group on Tallinn City Council will be 34 strong; after they join the SDE group, the latter, nine strong. Thus, the ruling alliance would indeed maintain 43 seats on the 79-seat city council.
The biggest opposition group, that of the Reform Party, has 16 members.
Following a bigger shuffling of party groups and prior to Kiik and Hanimägi's departure from Center, however, there has been little such movement on Tallinn City Council. Last month, the only change that occurred on the city council was that Hanimägi suspended his powers as city council member for three months, and Irina Antonjuk was appointed city council member in his stead; Antonjuk was accepted as a member of the Center group in mid-December.
Thus, Hanimägi actually has until March to decide whether he will even continue serving as city council member.
Taavi Aas, who likewise quit the Center Party this past fall, remains an independent.
Ossinovski: Social Democrats still refuse to work with EKRE
There has already been speculation in the media that the weakening of the Center Party will provide the opposition with the chance to woo the Social Democrats and form a new ruling alliance without them. Four opposition groups and the SDE would together hold a combined 45 seats.
Ossinovski, however, nipped this possibility in the bud, stating that the Social Democrats' position still stands that they will not be cooperating with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in Tallinn.
Leaving the six-member EKRE group out, however, would mean that the remaining four groups, including SDE, would only command 39 seats – falling one vote short of a majority.
Tallinn City Council EKRE whip Mart Kallas has previously told ERR that the Social Democrats are very difficult to lure away from the Center Party, and even if they were to succeed in doing so, the SDE wouldn't want to join forces with them anyway.
And while the possibility of forming a new ruling alliance has been publicly floated not just by Kaljulaid, but also for example Reform group whip Pärtel-Peeter Pere, in reality no real debate has taken place regarding the matter, at least not between city council groups.
Opposition still hoping for change
Speaking to ERR, Pere said that the Reform Party is prepared to form a new ruling alliance, and to meet with the Social Democrats to discuss this, but added that the matter of EKRE remains for them as well.
"For some reason, EKRE has occasionally wanted to distance itself from cooperating with the remaining opposition parties," he said. "For example, they didn't join in on the no-confidence motion against [Mayor] Mihhail Kõlvart this past fall either. What's behind such a tactic, however, is first and foremost a question for them."
Joel Jesse, whip of the six-strong Eesti 200 group, told ERR that the opposition is indeed more united than it was a year ago, and can't rule out any options, but acknowledged that no discussions have occurred regarding the potential formation of a new coalition in Tallinn.
"Currently it's not yet clear whether they will even occur as suggested in the media," Jesse said. "I'd rather not speculate whether they'll occur at all."
Regarding wooing the Social Democrats, the Eesti 200 whip said that of course you always have to communicate with people, but there hasn't been any talk to this end.
Karl Sander Kase, whip of Tallinn City Council's seven-seat Isamaa group, told ERR that he believes that in light of recent days' events, the formation of a coalition without Center is more realistic than ever before.
"We've shown initiative with all opposition parties to show that this is possible," Kase said. "What we've seen at council meetings gives [us] hope that there is a chance. That it's possible if all parties override their personal interest for its sake."
Jesse,- meanwhile, described possible negotiations between the four current opposition parties and the Social Democrats as complicated. "The more partners, the more complicated talks would be," he acknowledged.
Editor: Aili Vahtla