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Social democrats after several important positions in Tallinn

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PHOTO: Erik Prozes

The Social Democrat Party (SDE) wants the positions of city council chairman and a few other important offices in a potential coalition with the Center Party.

The positions of the social democrats regarding a potential coalition with Center vary from total opposition to agreeing to talks, while it would require a favorable deal for the latter position to come out on top. Both in terms of content and division of political positions.

The social democrats nominated Helve Särgava as their council chairman candidate in August. The party regards the council chair as the most influential position it could secure in a coalition. Members are also talking about two deputy mayor and two district mayor positions.

Representative of SDE Rainer Vakra said that the party wants half the important positions in the city if indeed it will decide to negotiate a coalition with Center. There has been talk in the social democrats’ camp of asking for five or six important positions.

Positions a potential coalition would have to divvy up include that of the mayor, city council chairman, six deputy mayors, and eight district mayors: Pirita, Lasnamäe, Center, North Tallinn, Kristiine, Mustamäe, Haabersti, and Nõmme. Vakra’s calculation would suggest the social democrats want eight positions.

Distribution has not been discussed

However, it is too soon to talk about positions as no decisions have been made. “I have had the honor of heading our delegation, and I can assure you that we haven’t discussed the matter once,” Vakra said. He added that discussions concerning the coalition’s goals and distribution of positions have been lively in unofficial form; for example, in the party’s mailing list.

“The starting point is what we had in 2002 when the Reform Party formed a coalition with Center. By the way, Center only had a single-vote majority back then too. Everything was split down the middle in Tallinn back then. That is our starting point, where we will start the talks,” he said. “Where it could end up – if we should even get that far – are those five or six positions.”

To achieve the correct turn (social democrats’ election slogan – ed.) promised to voters, the coalition agreement should be complemented with original and telling ideas and tangible change in Tallinn achieved. These kinds of bold steps would probably please the party’s loyal voters and translate into votes in the 2019 Riigikogu elections. If cooperation between SDE and Center is possible on the state level, it should be equally plausible in the city, while the former will have to find enough breathing room to set themselves apart from Center, a part of social democrats find.

As mentioned, there are those who do not approve of a coalition with the Center Party – whether because of its majority in the council, a lack of a grand idea on the social democrats’ part, the possibility of Center’s sins marring its coalition partner, or the experience of the 2009 coalition in which the social democrats were referred to as “Center’s poodles”. Social democrat MP and former defense minister Hannes Hanso has openly said that the social democrats should not form a coalition with Center.

Tallinn city councilman Hanno Matto is also against a coalition today. He is quite certain the party would not approve a coalition agreement in which it didn’t have the council chairman’s position. At the same time, Matto believes that resigning to the opposition would allow corruption to endure in Tallinn. The councilman believes talks should begin with recognition of a mutual right of veto, after which the sides could discuss the program and positions. “It would be our duty, as a member of a potential coalition, to prove the social democrats can be trusted – so election promises would be fulfilled, management culture improved, and the number of corruption cases reduced,” he added.

Leaving the door ajar

The social democrats say that if they cannot secure acceptable results during negotiations, they can always walk out and continue in the opposition, as they have for years.

Social democrat Barbi Pilvre recalls the last time the party formed a coalition with Center under Jüri Pihl’s leadership. “Back then, Edgar Savisaar steamrolled the social democrats. Now, there are different people in Tallinn but the same party discipline, and we are ruling with Center. I believe SDE should negotiate and do it seriously. The municipal shop and bank need to go and Reidi road project reopened. Advertising and private capital taken to Tallinn TV, air time for urban communities. There is never too much communication, especially in Tallinn,” Pilvre wrote in social media.

Center’s Mihhail Kõlvart has said: “If our potential coalition partner steps to negotiations with demands of closing and ending things, I believe we will have precious little to discuss. We have no plans of shutting down or ending anything today.”

Kõlvart did not rule out the possibility of the social democrats securing the council chair. “That should be discussed in the second or third stage of talks. First, we need to understand whether we can put together a common program,” Kõlvart said when asked whether Center would be willing to relinquish the position of council chairman.

The Center Party secured a narrow absolute majority in Tallinn at the 2017 local elections: 40 seats out of the total 79. The Reform Party managed to double its seats from nine to 18. The social democrats have nine, the Conservative People’s Party six, Pro Patria Res Publica Union five, and Savisaar’s Election Coalition and Active Tallinn a single seat – the individual mandate of Edgar Savisaar.

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