Mikser: Centre likely less interested in two-party coalition than Reform

Sven Mikser.
Sven Mikser. Source: Kairit Leibold / ERR

While concessions would come relatively easy to Reform, the Centre Party stands to lose a lot. Reform's much more pronounced anti-Russian rhetoric would likely cost junior partner Centre even more votes, and make it harder to defend its position in Tallinn in the next local elections in 2021.

While the Reform Party would be able to make concessions relatively easily, the Centre Party has plenty of reasons not to enter into a two-party "grand" coalition, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser (SDE) wrote on social media on Tuesday.

The media may look for red lines in election platforms, but: "Not everything that might tip the balance in one or the other direction is part of the parties' platforms," Mr Mikser pointed out.

Coalition with Centre less problematic for Reform than generally assumed

For instance, even seemingly insurmountable differences on issues like tax policy, free public transport and Estonian-language instruction in schools in reality would likely be overcome quite quickly.

A potential coalition agreement would simply include a reference to something like an "analysis of possibilities to optimise how transport is arranged" and "options to quickly bring education reform to a conclusion," Mr Mikser wrote.

From there on in, any kind of problem would then be addressed at the government's conference table at Stenbock House—and if agreement is impossible, a stalemate in the issue could be announced and the matter drawn out indefinitely.

Tax policy: Cosmetic changes would already solve problems

Tax policy is a similar issue. Cosmetic changes to the current set-up would allow Reform to say that the "chaos" they kept referring to throughout the election campaign has been liquidated, and to compensate for lowering excise duties, money could be found in an adjustment eg of the excise on electricity, Mr Mikser wrote.

After that, a "sad look" at Reform's famous Excel spreadsheet would give them all they need to say that further fumbling-about with taxes wouldn't make any sense. And with that, the topic would be off the table.

Other than that, a Reform-Centre coalition would mean fewer partners to deal with while at the same time having a more comfortable majority in parliament. This, in turn, would mean stability, which is what voters obviously crave at this point, Mr Mikser wrote.

Centre stands to lose even more, might need time-out to take stock

Contrary to the assumption that it is Reform who would have a hard time settling into this two-party coalition, it may well be Centre who are less comfortable, Mr Mikser wrote.

Centre will have to take a long hard look at what exactly cost it the election. "Twenty-six mandates in the Riigikogu isn't a bad result, but at the same time they're looking at their greatest loss to the Reform Party in history, and that in a situation where they saw themselves in the best-possible position," Mr Mikser said.

Minister of Education Mailis Reps (Centre) was as honest as it gets when she said after the election that the Centre Party with its stint in government has "become too Western-minded" to be able to mobilise the Russian-speaking electorate.

"Demanding more sanctions against Russia and speaking for NATO, Ratas lost the support of a certain part of Russian-speaking voters," Mr Mikser pointed out.

This is no accident, he stressed, but an inevitable step on the Centre Party's way out of political isolation. Ratas had hoped to curb the influence of the associated politicians in his party as well and wagered that increased support among Estonians would compensate for Centre's losses elsewhere, Mr Mikser added.

On top of that, the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) as the new supposed champion of the little man also cut into Centre's results.

Anti-Russian rhetoric of Reform likely to alienate even more Centre voters

Any government under Reform and Kaja Kallas would likely crank up Estonian anti-Russian rhetoric, at least compared with the outgoing cabinet, which would cost Centre as the junior partner even more votes where its Russian-speaking voter base is concerned.

This means that as the junior partner in a Reform-Centre coalition, the party would have an ever so much harder time holding on to the remainder of that voter group, Mr Mikser suggested.

As part of a more right-leaning government inevitably strapped for cash, in addition Centre would also have a very hard time sustaining its appeal to a lower-income and less financially secure base. Keeping up with EKRE would be difficult in this area, especially now that the latter has almost tripled its mandates in the Riigikogu, Mr Mikser argued.

Centre only has two years to recover and defend position in Tallinn

Meanwhile the Centre Party needs to get things under control within the next two years, or it stands to lose Tallinn in the next local elections in 2021.

The party has two possible courses of actions here, Mr Mikser wrote. "The first and easier one is to give up its sole reign in the capital already today and agree to a coalition with Reform not only on the national level, but also in Tallinn."

This could be a perfectly thinkable way to go for Reform as well, as past coalitions with Centre at the municipal level produced a large part of the Reform Party's most important politicians today.

The other option available to Centre is for Ratas to become mayor of Tallinn again. "This would also solve the problem of the former prime minister becoming a 'regular' minister under Kallas, which might be a difficult one to swallow," Mr Mikser wrote.

Either way, if a Reform-Centre coalition isn't meant to be, it will be because of Centre's reluctance rather than that of Reform, Mr Mikser opined.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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