Pact with Toom turns Ratas into a hostage

Olga Ivanova, Oudekki Loone, Yana Toom ja Mihhail Kõlvart

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

The meetings between the Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas and the leader of the so-called «three sisters' electoral bloc», MEP Yana Toom, which have been going on for the past two-three weeks, apparently postponed the forming of the competing list of candidates.

Apparently because in fact Ratas and Toom reached an agreement over the phone only the day before yesterday that they will attempt to move on together. There can be no complete certainty, since there is already a list of some 100 candidates and an electoral program behind Toom. «Yes, of course I am confident that we can work with Yana in the same party and realize our common goals», Ratas answered to the question whether he trusts the agreement with Toom.

Late in the evening before the news conference Ratas also managed to visit the party's Tartu county meeting, since voices of dissent could he heard there as well and some pro-Russian members considered joining Toom's list. Ratas reportedly said there that he has no intent of facing the EU presidency with a minority government and they all have to maintain unity so as to preserve the ruling position before the election and to make maximum use of high ratings. Allegedly there is also opposition in Sillamäe and Narva besides Tartu.

Some ten hours after the morning news conference or late last evening Ratas invited the leaders of other coalition parties, Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (IRL) to his office.

«A working meeting with coalition members,» he described the reason for the meeting and initially mentioned the administrative reform as the subject.

Discussing administrative reform at ten in the evening? «The two IRL members, who left the faction and organizing work in the future will be discussed as well,» Ratas answered.

While Yana Toom shined and joked at the news conference, the Center MPs Oudekki Loone and Olga Ivanova were quite taciturn and grim. If the independent and pragmatic Toom has really made an agreement not to lead the separate bloc, we shall never know what Loone and Ivanova will do in a situation, where the coalition majority in the parliament has declined from 56 to 54.

The Center Party itself, which is seeking for further weeks of media attention, claims that no real negotiations would be held. Even the most convinced enemies of Ratas describe him as the best negotiator, but it is likely that he has to swallow several bitter pills in the future in order to prevent the threatening rift.

If Ratas says that he reached an agreement with Toom, where does that leave Edgar Savisaar, who is hoping for yet another comeback? How to act to make everybody happy?

Even if Ratas did not conclude specific agreements with Toom and gave no binding promises, it means that the Centrist leader will have to make concessions on some important issues. The Russian faction of the Center Party certainly wants to improve its positions.

Even if the negotiations and discussions, so attractive to the media, will follow, the rift within the party would not go away. Such extortion negotiations have been held during the final agony of several coalitions. They have gathered around the table and presented terms which the other side was forced to accept, but the lack of confidence led to a break-up eventually. 

Any further stress can turn the participants into eternal negotiators. Even if the Center Party can last until the local election, a split is built into the context of 2019 parliamentary election. The Center Party can stage a cynical show to maintain Russian-speaking voters  at the local election, but that would not work at the general election.

It is likely that Ratas as the party leader will have to start paying increasing attention to the Russian-speaking voters due to the pact with Toom. In the hope that the EU presidency comes up and the government will remain in office the premier will have to make concessions to the party's Russian faction in some political issues.

The cooperation agreement with «United Russia» is no longer frozen, but obtains a real form. For example, granting voting rights to non-citizens at general election may come up again. Zero option citizenship has been in the are as well, just as the issue of tuition language at schools.

«In some sense the Estonian public was just informed that the Center Party does not take the Estonian voters as seriously as the Russian ones, This theater can be ended only by telling the Estonian voters that Yana Toom cannot make policy decisions,» a highly critical Center Party leading politician said.

It is alleged that several former comrades of the premier are disappointed at his behavior and making agreements with Yana Toom.