PM: Elections watershed between progress for many or regress for the few

Jüri Ratas (Centre) speaking at his party's pre-election conference on Saturday.
Jüri Ratas (Centre) speaking at his party's pre-election conference on Saturday. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Ruling coalition Centre Party held its pre-election conference on Saturday, with a keynote speech by party leader and prime minister, Jüri Ratas, and the endorsing of its candidate list for the March general election.

Mr Ratas stated that the elections would be a turning point on which Estonia can either progress, or take a retrograde step, clearly addressing opposition Reform Party and perhaps scotching theories that the two parties could end up in coalition together come March.

"There is only one choice of principle that stands before us – forward or back,'' said Mr Ratas.

''Whether we move forward towards a more just, stronger and caring state or we go back under the rule of the Reform Party," he continued of the choice faced, referring to the opposition Reform Party, the largest party in terms of recent support polls as well as number of seats at the Riigikogu.

Winning elections not goal on its own

Reform was a majority coalition party for over a decade in Estonia, with Andrus Ansip first becoming PM in 2005 after the resignation of Juhan Parts (Isamaa/Pro Patria, or IRL as it was then known), though the party had already been in the coalition for some time. Mr Ansip remained prime minister until 2014 when he stepped down to be replaced by Taavi Rõivas. A vote of no confidence in November 2016 saw Mr Rõivas ousted in favour of Mr Ratas and Centre switching places with Reform.

On concrete topics, Mr Ratas said the economy, taxation, social policy and the importance of a long range view were among areas which the Centre Party was most concerned with, in summary posing the question of whether government should be for the few or the many.

This dilemma, on whether to focus on the well-being of the richest in society, or more generally, would include questions of reducing healthcare waiting lists versus pursuing the type of privatisation favoured by Reform, addressing state pensions and basic incomes.

"For the Centre Party, winning the elections is not a goal on its own,'' Mr Ratas continued.

''For us, winning the elections is crucial because our desire is to build a strong, caring Estonian state with growing population numbers. To build a just state that cherishes all its people, not placing our communities in confrontation with each other. A state which stands for the well-being and equal opportunities of every one of us. A state which leaves no one behind," he said, before turning his sights on the main opposition.

Full list heavy on municipal governance personnel

"It may be that in the minds of some Reform Party members, the grass might have been greener and the sky bluer when they were in power. However, as a matter of fact, we were a poorer and more divided country then, with declining population numbers. The Centre Party will not let Estonia be turned back! The Centre Party will move forward, not back, and invites all the people of Estonia to come with it," he went on.

Meanwhile, the party also unveiled its 125-strong list of candidates, across the 12 electoral districts in Estonia.

The breakdown sees 90 male candidates and 35 female ones. The bulk of the list is made up of people with higher education, and well over half have been connected with municipal governance in some way. The oldest candidate is 80 years old, the youngest 26, it is reported.

The list, which includes obviously Mr Ratas, together with alumni such as Tallinn Mayor Taavi Aas, and son of the former Tallinn mayor, Erki Savisaar, draws people from such diverse fields as business, local governance, sports, the media, the medial profession and more, as well as career politicians, according to party secretary Mihhail Korb.

The general election is on 3 March. European elections are in late May.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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