EKRE will not share a coalition with Center

Ulla Länts
, ajakirjanik
Kristen Michal (Reform Party), Mihhail Kõlvart (Center Party) ja Martin Helme (Conservative People’s Party).
Kristen Michal (Reform Party), Mihhail Kõlvart (Center Party) ja Martin Helme (Conservative People’s Party). Photo: Remo Tõnismäe

Mayoral candidates for the Tallinn opposition want to contrast to the Center Party despite sporting similar visions for the capital’s future.

Election promises to be reflected in next year’s budget

The Reform Party wants to start by abolishing the kindergarten place fee. The party also promises to find money for activity accounts for pensioners in next year’s budget. Urban space investments are another promise. Candidate for mayor Kristen Michal said that Tallinn’s red bicycle paths need to be fixed and that pouring money into plastics before elections is not a solution, adding that the people who came up with the idea should be sacked.

The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) would also include financial promises in next year’s budget. Those include benefits for young people and pensioners, as well as childbirth benefits. In the long run, EKRE also want to contribute to better traffic organization by investing in multilevel intersections and other traffic solutions. “My message is that we must not pit different modes of transport against one another. Pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and people taking the bus must all be able to get around normally,” EKRE candidate Martin Helme said.

Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said that competitors would do well to rein in spending as 90 percent of the budget is used to cover the city’s obligations, with just 10 percent left over for realizing various election promises. Kõlvart believes the Tallinn Hospital project needs to be taken forward and efforts maintained to find a way to fix up the Linnahall building.

How to rule out corruption in Tallinn

Martin Helme believes the capital needs an independent audit department to keep an eye on procurements worth hundreds of millions of euros. He also said that politicians should start by asking themselves whether the things they spend money on are necessary as opposed to vanity projects aimed at elections.

Kõlvart said that the city government has already launched reorganization and liquidated several unnecessary departments, such as Tallinn Television. Kõlvart agreed that Tallinn needs new people but said that does not mean all experienced city officials are incompetent. Addressing the internal control topic, the mayor said the audit department is working with the police and monitoring all city departments.

Michal challenged Kõlvart’s claim that the audit department is on top of the situation. He said that as a long-time city councilman, he knows that every time something goes awry with city finances, the audit department shows up and assures everyone that things are just fine. Michal added, however, that he does not wish to be unfair toward the incumbent mayor and believes the city is on the road to recovery under Kõlvart. The Reform Party candidate added that better financial control is made difficult by Center’s hegemony in Tallinn as a centrist is not likely to ask a fellow centrist uncomfortable questions.

Will free public transport be retained?

Michal said that while “free” public transport is still paid for by the citizens of Tallinn, the Reform Party would not reintroduce tickets. However, Reform would redraw the city’s public transport routes to better correspond to citizens’ needs. Michal would also like to see new tram lines to Haabersti and Viimsi.

Mihhail Kõlvart wants public transport to remain free only for Tallinners also in the future. Asked whether public transport could be free for everyone, the mayor said it would require state funding. Kõlvart does deem it necessary to work with neighboring local governments when it comes to public transport organization.

Martin Helme said that as free public transport has already been introduced, EKRE will not be the ones to abolish it. But the EKRE chairman was critical of the service, saying that routes are ineffective, public transport is not always safe and vehicles are crowded during rush hour. Helme added that talk of new public transport links and routes has been around for the last three elections, while nothing has changed so far.

How to improve availability of kindergarten places

Martin Helme said that while the problem of kindergarten places is close to being solved, the issue of school places will replace it. He described as the greatest concern that Tallinn is seen as a single district with families unable to secure kindergarten places close to home. Residents of Nõmme are offered kindergarten places in Lasnamäe that obviously is not the solution. Talking about Estonian school, Helme emphasized that children should learn Estonian in kindergarten after which parents would be able to choose whether they will attend Estonian or Russian school. He said he definitely does not agree to Estonian- and Russian-speaking children attending the same school that is then called Estonian school. Helme said it would be the end of Estonian-speaking schools in Estonia.

Michal said that kindergartens are not doing as well as schools in Tallinn and that he is critical of the capital’s education department. He gave the example of poor lighting around kindergartens, with teachers forced to look for kids wielding torches. The Reform Party candidate also said that kindergarten should be free of charge and that funding should be taken from the pot of pointless expenses.

Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart said that many children (children with special needs, from less fortunate families) have been exempt from the fee. Children of the same family starting from the second child are exempt from the fee from this year. That is to say benefits exist for virtually everyone who needs them. Kõlvart also pointed out that Tallinn kindergartens offer free meals. The mayor highlighted shortage of teachers as the biggest problem in schools. The same problem concerns Russian kindergartens. There are not enough Estonian teachers, which problem cannot be solved with the help of elections slogans.

Who is willing to marry whom?

EKRE will not share a coalition with Center as Martin Helme believes the latter needs a time-out. He said that Center should be sent to the opposition where they could accumulate some new ideas after spending a very long time in power.

“Our party will not participate in solidifying Center’s power in Tallinn, meaning we are open to a coalition with all other political forces that will make the elections threshold in the capital,” Helme said when asked about coalition preferences.

The Reform Party is not ruling out any coalition. Michal said that everyone who will make it to the city council will be consulted.

“Four years ago, there were demands for us to rule out Martin’s party, now we should rule out Mihhail’s, while I’m sure we will be required to slam the door in another party’s face in four years’ time, which is why we have simply decided to work with everyone. What we need to rule out in Tallinn is a single party’s absolute majority.”

Kõlvart was somewhat hurt by criticism in the current city authority. “Listening to my conversation partners here, I get the impression that an ancient beast is lurking in the city government, with everybody working towards making it leave. That is not the case. The city government can think strategically, we have long-term plans and can make rapid decisions.” The mayor added that whether Center will continue in Tallinn is up to the voter to decide, and should voters withdraw their trust, the party will form the opposition.