Opinion: Centre should be happy things didn't go worse in Ida-Viru County

Centre earned some 6,000 fewer votes in Ida-Viru County, including Narva, in the 2019 Riigikogu elections.
Centre earned some 6,000 fewer votes in Ida-Viru County, including Narva, in the 2019 Riigikogu elections. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

The latest Riigikogu elections demonstrated that the Centre party has lost significant ground in Ida-Viru County, its old stronghold, and in connection with its top candidates in the electoral district, ERR Narva correspondent Rene Kundla said on Vikerraadio on Monday.

Since the 2007 Riigikogu elections, the Centre Party's yield has remained stable around 20,000 votes. In the most recent elections, however, this number dropped sharply to below 14,000. This was still slightly more than all other candidate lists combined, but this was certainly but a cold comfort for Ida Viru County's Centrists. Before the elections there had been talk of the hope of earning even five mandates in Ida-Viru County, and ultimately they ended up with just half, or three, of the mandates distributed.

The principal drop was attributable to the fact that as a result of a variety of skulduggery in Narva, involving corruption, swarming, Russian-language upper secondary education, the Capital of Culture, Narva Museum, etc., Yana Toom and Mihhail Stalnuhhin's voter numbers in Ida-Viru County decreased by more than a third. While the two of them combined earned the Centre Party 15,200 votes, this time they managed to earn the favour of fewer than 9,000 people.

The lion's share of this loss was borne by Yana Toom, whose support in Narva alone dropped from 4,500 to below 2,000. One likely reason for this is that four years ago, Yana Toom was, for Edgar Savisaar's followers, his representative in Ida-Viru County, while this time she was simply a visitor from the European Parliament.

Repinski made mistakes

For Martin Repinski, Centre's third biggest vote-magnet in Ida-Viru County following the two giants Yana Toom and Mihhail Stalnuhhin, his decision to leave the Riigikogu last summer to take up the office of Jõhvi municipal mayor proved to be fateful. Mr Repinski himself admitted following the elections that mistakes had been made, something with which 600 people who didn't vote for him again agreed. Voters showed Mr Repinski that they were not stupid, because although they may have enjoyed the Women's Day party scheduled a week early due to the elections, they still weren't interested in voting for him.

The fact that it's safer to woo your voters from within the Riigikogu was demonstrated to Martin Repinski by his old rival Dmitri Dmitrijev, who managed to increase his voter numbers while serving as an alternate MP by nearly one third.

Mixed messages on education

One reason why many potential Centre Party voters began rethinking things at the last minute was the party's mixed messages when it came to education-related issues. In connection with the new Kohtla-Järve State Upper Secondary School, there has been a lot of talk about the disappearing of an Estonian-language school, but it is worth noting the nuance here that one Kohtla-Järve city district, the Rakvere-sized Ahtme, will be left without an upper secondary school altogether as a result of the educational reform. This certainly didn't make parents in that area happy.

What likewise no doubt didn't attract any voters was the fact that both Kohtla-Järve and Jõhvi's Centrist bosses allowed the local councils to significantly increase their own salaries. In Kohtla-Järve, for example, this increased by more than one third and now exceeds €4,300 per month.

The dissatisfaction to crop up and continue to grow over Kohtla-Järve's Centrists was felt most by Valeri Korb. Mr Korb, who allowed himself to be named an honorary citizen of Kohtla-Järve by fellow members of the city council between elections, has seen his voter numbers tumble fivefold in 12 years, from 4,000 to 800. Businessman Nikolai Ossipenko's decision to shut down the regional cable television station Lites, where Centrists were given significant air time, last autumn also did Mr Korb a disservice.

Fewer voters

What certainly also played a role in the Centre Party's loss of votes was the fact that, compared to four years ago, the number of eligible voters in Ida-Viru County decreased by more than 6,000. Voter turnout was down as well. But if you look at the votes scooped up by the competition, then the party to steal the most Centre votes in Ida-Viru County — as surprising as it may be — was the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

All in all it can be said that Ida-Viru residents hoped for more from Centre's rise to power in the state than Centre managed to accomplish in the past two years. Considering everything that has been going on in both Ida-Viru County and the country as a whole recently, the Centre Party should nonetheless be pleased that things didn't go even worse for them in Northeastern Estonia.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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