Two former Reform MPs join Centre

Andrei Korobeinik (left) and Andre Sooäär at Wednesday's press conference announcing their candidacy for the Centre Party.
Andrei Korobeinik (left) and Andre Sooäär at Wednesday's press conference announcing their candidacy for the Centre Party. Source: ERR

Two former Reform Party MPs have thrown in their lot with the Centre Party, running in the general election in March, though they haven't actually joined the party.

Imre Sooäär, a Reform member since 2006 who sat at the Riigikogu until November 2016, announced his candidacy for the March 2019 election, together with Andrei Korobeinik, who was a Reform MP from 2011-2013.

Mr Sooäär also appeared in the 2006 documentary ''the Singing Revolution'', charting the progress of Estonian independence.

Mr Korobeinik was a founder of social networking site, and was behind a popular dating site, as well as a crowdsourcing investment platform,

The move, from the free-market oriented Reform to the more socially democratic Centre, says as much about Centre as it does about the two new candidates.

Social tax ceiling

Indeed party leader and current prime minister, Jüri Ratas, noted that four years ago some of Centre's current policies, such as a ceiling on the social tax (ie beyond which social tax would not be paid by companies on that employee's income) would have been unthinkable Centre policies, yet now he seems to agree with the newcomers stance on the issue.

Both Mr Sooäär and Mr Korobeinik stressed the centrality of a stable and strong business climate in their respective world views, and their opposition to corporate tax on retained or reinvested profits or raising the tax burden on the tourism sector. Currently retained and reinvested profits are untaxed, though distributed profits are taxed at 14-20%.

The pair also said pension reforms were important, improving investment of pension funds whilst reducing management fees. Streamlining the pension system and getting the private sector involved are more commonly identified with Reform and also Isamaa/Pro Patria.

Centre approach on citizenship appealing

The two men also clearly identified with Centre's line on citizenship, wishing to resolve the 'stateless persons' issue and to permit dual citizenship for diaspora Estonians.

Mr Ratas backed up the line by noting his embarrassment at Estonia still issuing 'grey passports', travel documents issued to those who have no citizenship and in practice held mostly by Russian-speaking residents.

Mr Sooäär and Mr Korobeinik also chimed in on another hallmark Centre area, education, saying that apps an other technology should be used to help children learn Estonian (Centre's line on language issues is that education can be bilingual, ie in Russian in Russian-speaking areas). They also suggested children could be taught chess from as early as second grade (Mr Korobeinik is chair of the Estonian Chess Union).

More big names coming

For his part, Mr Ratas said that entrepreneurship and the private sector need to be brought to the forefront, something which the announcement presumably underlines.

The Estonian electoral system means that candidates can run for a party without being a member, and it is quite common in a general election for this to happen. Indrek Tarand MEP (independent), running for Reform, is a recent example of this.

The proportional representation system, where votes for stronger candidates are redistributed, to an extent, to those lower down the electoral list via the d'Hondt method, means parties are generally trying to attract big names both from within politics and without. Former skier Kristina Šmigun-Vähi qualifies for the latter. More such vote-catching candidates are likely to be snapped up by all the major parties between now and March.

Both men are to run in Tallinn electoral districts, Andrei Korobeinin in, Haabersti, North-Tallinn and Kristiine, Imre Sooäär in City Centre, Lasnamäe and Pirita.

The original press conference announcing the candidacies (in Estonian) is here.

The general election is on 3 March 2019.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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