TÕNIS SAARTS Political shift in Tallinn offers lifeline for Kõlvart

Tõnis Saarts
, associate professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University
Copy
Tõnis Saarts, political scientist from Tallinn University.
Tõnis Saarts, political scientist from Tallinn University. Photo: Kermo Benrot
  • A diverse coalition is about to emerge in Tallinn.
  • The power shift may have arrived prematurely.

Paradoxically, the power shift in Tallinn might inadvertently extend a lifeline to the floundering Center Party, preventing it from sinking entirely, Tõnis Saarts, associate professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University, writes.

There has been extensive discussion about the Center Party's waning influence following significant internal strife. It is difficult to contest this point, especially because after the recent power shift in the capital city on Tuesday, the question of the Center's role in Estonian politics today is met with contemplative silence.

Yet, a glimmer of hope may be emerging for the Center Party. The new governing alliance in the capital is set to form a true rainbow coalition, historically known as a «seven dwarfs coalition». This coalition is comprised of four ideologically distinct parties, along with pragmatically motivated defectors from Center (and possibly EKRE), making it prone to inherent challenges.

Firstly, keeping this diverse group together requires an especially high level of skill in divide-and-rule political games. In other words, a constant state of alert, fearing dissatisfaction within the coalition, tends to overshadow municipal policy goals and initiatives. It is very challenging for such a diverse group to develop and implement a coherent governance program that could genuinely transform life in the capital city.

Moreover, none of the parties, aside from the Social Democrats, has been in power in the capital city for nearly two decades. The opportunity to quickly implement some of their most significant previous election promises and secure key positions in anticipation of upcoming elections adds even more temptations and points of tension. In short, the effect of «young calves on a spring meadow» is easily anticipated.

A constant state of alert, fearing dissatisfaction within the coalition, tends to overshadow municipal policy goals and initiatives.

While the tug of war for advantage might not be as pronounced this year due to the constraints of the previous city government's budget, 2025 is set to ignite fiercer competition. Each member of the coalition will be eager to claim significant policy victories to boast about in the fall elections.

From the Center Party's viewpoint, what does this scenario entail? Should the emerging coalition manifest as a quintessential «seven dwarfs coalition» at its worst, the new city government might be perceived by voters more as a symbol of «chaos» and «conflict» rather than «decisions» and «changes».

This scenario would afford Mihhail Kõlvart the opportunity to point out, «You tried to do it without us, and look what happened.» Essentially, he could remind the city's residents that if they desire an end to the so-called circus at Freedom Square, they should support a more collected and professional city administration. Kõlvart's appeal could then extend beyond merely Russian-speaking voters... Thus, the question arises: was it too soon for a power shift in Tallinn? Facing potential defeat in the 2025 elections due to diminishing ranks and relegation to the opposition, the Center Party would have been in a far less hopeful position than it is today. Now, however, they can bank on the fragility of the new city government and the internal tensions that are almost certain to arise. Time will tell if the proverb «haste makes waste» is applicable in this context or if the moment for change was indeed ripe.

Top