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Center looking at continued hegemony in the capital

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PHOTO: Keskerakond

Should Edgar Savisaar's condition allow and should he decide to run in the Center Party's ranks in Tallinn's Lasnamäe borough at this fall's local elections, Tallinn could be looking at four more years of Center ruling alone as the party already has the support of 48 percent of the capital's residents today.

A study ordered by BNS and Postimees and carried out by polling company Kantar Emor suggests that the Center Party has the most cause to rejoice going into local elections. The party enjoys the support of 29 percent of people in Estonia. The party has also managed to gain 2 points since February to land on 48 percent in March in Tallinn.

While the party's new leaders have tried to distance themselves from Savisaar by setting up Mihhail Kõlvart as Center's forerunner in Lasnamäe borough, Savisaar could still give the party absolute rule in Tallinn should he decide to run in October. The district has suggested Savisaar take part.

Chairman of the Center Party Jüri Ratas said, pondering the possibility of continued hegemony, that every new candidate is welcome.

“I understand that Savisaar's name always produces a reaction in society,” Ratas said. “While the party of course welcomes Savisaar's participation, he has always told me during our meetings that he needs answers to questions regarding his health before he can make that decision.”

Ratas said that he believes the Center Party's considerable nationwide support is due to the fact Center has managed to fulfill its promises as the leading party of the coalition.

According to the study, election coalitions and individual candidates make up the second most popular option in people's minds with 25 percent. However, this figure should not inspire too much confidence in election coalitions as previous local elections have shown polling results tend to lose much of their shine on election day: support for election coalitions and individual candidates dropped from 30 percent in the final polls to just 23 percent at the previous election.

It is possible the administrative reform will break this trend in the fall of 2017 as parish heads and local celebrities tend to prefer election coalitions, while political ideology counts for precious little at local elections. Past actions and knowledge of local circumstances count instead.

Head of research at Kantar Emor Aivar Voog carried out a cross-analysis of support for parties during Riigikogu and local elections. It turned out that all major parties (Center included) lose approximately one fifth of their Riigikogu elections support to election coalitions when people questioned think of local government council elections.

“That is why the rating of most parties is considerably lower during local elections than it is during parliamentary ones,” Voog said. “The one big exception is the Center Party because local elections involve non-citizens that make up almost 15 percent of the total electorate. Nearly 80 percent of non-citizens would prefer the Center Party at local elections, which makes their local elections rating higher than their Riigikogu elections rating.”

The situation of the Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) is perhaps the most critical as the party only merited the support of 4.6 percent of people questioned. Chairman Margus Tsahkna admitted the result is not good. “Right now it is between two parties: the Center Party and the Reform Party. The rest will have to try and reach people with their narrative, their vision somehow,” Tsahkna said. “We need to get to work regarding changes we're contemplating. Things we've managed to get done in the government – alimony fund, 2.2 percent of GDP defense spending – have perhaps not registered with our voters because of the conflict of the two major parties.” Tsahkna added that support for the party has always been stronger come election day.

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