Centre a bit wary due to being left out by Reform in the past, says Ratas

Outgoing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) following his meeting on Wednesday with President Kersti Kaljulaid. 6 March 2019.
Outgoing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) following his meeting on Wednesday with President Kersti Kaljulaid. 6 March 2019. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

While the election-winning Reform Party has extended an invitation to the coalition negotiation table to Centre Party, the first runner-up is in no hurry to accept. While Centre chairman Jüri Ratas promised that his party would not get involved in two separate coalition talks in parallel, he admitted that Reform's behaviour following the elections was not inspiring of trust in his party or its voters.

"No, we're not going to do that," Mr Ratas responded when asked by ERR on Wednesday whether he would consider coalition talks with Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in parallel with coalition talks with the Reform Party, as suggested by Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder. "We're participating in one set of talks. I do not currently have an offer for a joint Isamaa-EKRE-Centre coalition on my desk."

At the same time, however, the Centre chairman criticised Reform's behaviour following its election win on Sunday, including holding consultations on two separate fronts.

"The Reform Party's messages up until how have been contradictory," he explained. "We were initially led to believe that they would prefer to form a new coalition with the SDE and Isamaa. Now a formal proposal was made to us instead. I will meet with Reform Party chairwoman Kaja Kallas tonight in order to discuss this proposal. After that, the Centre Party board will have to adopt a stance on the matter. This certainly has not fostered a trusting relationship within our party and our voters."

Stung before

Mr Ratas admitted that he has been made wary by prior experiences, in which an election-winning Centre Party has nonetheless been left out of the government.

"This triumvirate — the Reform Party, the then-Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), or the one-time Moderates — has on multiple occasions left the Centre Party out," he recalled. "This has always been the backbone of things when it comes to the Centre Party — either to scare us or to bring us into the game and then abandon us. I suppose this has generated a sort of goodwill — how long will these negotiations last, or for how long could such a coalition exist."

He declined to offer his assessment, however, on how likely it was that Centre would form a coalition with Reform.

"I understand clearly who has the upper hand right now — and that is the Reform Party, the winner of the elections," Mr Ratas said. "As the junior partner, I certainly won't start assessing this likelihood from our current position or right now."

Differing views on Russian-language schools

Commenting on the two parties' differences of opinion regarding Estonia's Russian-language schools and education, Mr Ratas believed that the Reform Party has yet to broach the subject in any sort of substantial way, opting instead to propose ahead of the elections to simply shut down all of the country's Russian-language schools.

"It simply isn't realistic to abruptly make the cut that Reform wants," he explained. "Imagine for a moment Narva, for example, or Tallinn's Lasnamäe District — it isn't realistic to abruptly make this cut here. I support high-quality and robust Estonian-language education and, through this, naturally also the fact that when these schoolchildren finish basic school or upper secondary school, that their opportunities for continued education or on the job market would improve significantly."

Not interested in Tallinn mayorship

Mr Ratas has also ruled out taking over as mayor of Tallinn after current mayor Taavi Aas was elected to the Riigikogu.

"I understand that this is an interesting question for journalism," he said. "I see myself as the keeper of the Centre Party's ideas and platform. The example of the mayoral seat in Tallinn — this is a conspiracy theory, and this certainly won't happen."

"Taavi Aas is a good mayor, and Jüri Ratas is working to ensure that the promises made to Centre Party voters and our positions are really implemented," the party chairman continued. "In Estonia's political culture, the best possible solution and means for this is belonging to the [government] coalition."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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