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Analysis: Ratas holding keys to Center Party, Savisaar history

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (first right) at the Center Party's election party, Oct. 15, 2017.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (first right) at the Center Party's election party, Oct. 15, 2017. Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

Former long-time Center Party chairman and mayor of Tallinn Edgar Savisaar is now history and has freed the party from the pressure of his political past, finds ERR political editor Toomas Sildam.

It’s unfair that covering the local elections the media have talked and are talking mostly about Tallinn, while there are 79 local councils in Estonia and two thirds of our people still live outside the capital. But the basic question of the elections was answered yesterday—namely what will become of Tallinn, whether the Center Party can hold on to power also without Edgar Savisaar, who ran on his own list.

They managed. It was a close call, but they did.

This is a decisive victory for the Center Party’s chairman, Jüri Ratas, and it shows who now holds the keys to the party. Edgar Savisaar took the worst beating of his political career yesterday, getting just about half as many personal votes as [candidate for mayor] Taavi Aas, and seven times less than [deputy mayor] Mihhail Kõlvart.

Edgar Savisaar is history now, outside politics.

His election coalition with [businessmen] Jüri Mõis and Urmas Sõõrumaa was lined up to take revenge on Jüri Ratas, [economic affairs minister] Kadri Simson, and Taavi Aas for eliminating the old master from the party’s leadership. “I’ll take away your undisputed power and you’re going to have to come grovelling to go on governing the city,” Savisaar seemed to think. While in reality he took the pressure of his own past from the Center Party. Jüri Ratas confirmed this in the election night, unexpectedly announcing very clearly that his party wouldn’t work with Savisaar’s election coalition.

But if the Center Party wants to back up its very close victory by for example wooing the Social Democrats, they’ll likely be rejected. The Social Democrats have stepped on that particular rake before and likely won’t support their partner’s single-power aspirations again.

Still, a year and a half away from the next parliamentary elections, the Center Party’s opponents have to ask themselves what went wrong with their campaigns and which of their topics the voters didn’t respond to. Corruption, apparently, is one of them.

The Center Party’s victory in Tallinn is no surprise. But that more than 180,000 voters trusted the e-vote despite potential problems regarding the security of ID cards that came up before the elections is a pleasant surprise. Estonians clearly trust the e-state.

The low turnout was surprising. It could mean that the young people who were allowed to vote for the first time didn’t do it.

Another surprise was that the leading candidate of election coalition Meie Narva (“Our Narva”), rector of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences Katri Raik, got a better result than Narva veteran politician Mihhail Stalnuhhin (Center). This may not have pushed the Center Party out of power, but shows how tired a lot of residents are of those who run the city.

Also surprising were the mediocre, if not to say meager results of several ministers leading local lists.

And the votes for Taavi Rõivas were a surprise, who just days before the election got himself into a harassment scandal. He got more than 4,000 votes, only half of which were cast before the scandal broke.

The good results of the election coalitions in a lot of local districts was not surprising, as we’re looking at local elections. The smaller the place, the more people prefer to vote for those they know. Those who come from far away to get registered just to stand for election are usually red-carded by the voters, especially now as many people are unhappy with the merger of municipalities and trust those who they can hope will stand up for the interests of their own area.

IRL’s clear success in a lot of municipalities and that they remained on the Tallinn city council shows how important it is not to be intimidated by pre-election surveys, which just months ago predicted a total loss for the party. They decided to fight, and they did well.

IRL’s result is good as well as bad news for the party’s coalition partners in the central government, Jüri Ratas and Jevgeni Ossinovski. On one hand it means that IRL won’t disintegrate in the aftermath of the elections, while on the other it will bolster both IRL’s self-confidence as well as help [IRL chairman] Helir-Valdor Seeder in government meetings.

Leading up to the 2019 Riigikogu elections we’ll see whether or not IRL can win back some of the votes it lost to the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) and the Free Party. EKRE’s result was worse than expected, though they scored at least a rhetorical triumph by getting into about half of the councils for which they ran, and the Free Party is struggling with the 5-percent threshold in all the possible polls.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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