TALLINN - In the strongest sign of cooperation between Estonia's two center-left parties, Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar told the People's Union party congress that he was hoping the two parties would form the next coalition after parliamentary elections in March 2007.
"We will fight in the name of the Center Party and the People's Union forming the next coalition. We will be stronger together and can better take care of our electors' interests," Savisaar said.
He added that the Center Party and the People's Union, which make up two-thirds of the current ruling coalition, had a similar vision of Estonia's development. He said both parties valued rural life and domestic capital, supported those in need of help and respected the elderly, and wanted a state capable of providing a secure life to all the people.
"In the name of a more caring society, we will cooperate as coalition partners on the national level and in many local governments - in towns and the countryside," he said.
The People's Union has already said it would support President Arnold Ruutel for a second presidential term, even though Ruutel has said he would not run in the parliamentary round of elections. The right-of-center parties appear willing to rally around a single candidate, while the Centrists have vacillated as to which tactics they would use come August when an extraordinary parliamentary session takes the task of electing a new president.
But the growing signals of cooperation between the Centrists and the People's Union have led to increasing speculation as to how the parties could work together to elect a new head of state via the electoral college, should Parliament prove incapable of mustering the necessary 66 votes.
Political scientist Rein Toomla estimated that the two parties would need 40 or so additional votes over what they can already rely upon in order to have their candidate elected as the next president via the electoral college (See Q&A page 18).
A study by Toomla, which was published by ETV24, suggests the two potential allies would together control 135 votes in the 347-seat body made up of MPs and local government representatives, which will be convened should Parliament be unable to gather the required two-thirds majority of votes behind any single presidential candidate on three successive attempts.
The study is based on the results of last year's local elections.
"According to the estimate, the People's Union can count on 47 votes from the rural municipalities and towns where it has an absolute majority in the local council," Toomla, chief of Tartu University's department of political science, said.
A similar calculation shows the Center Party as having 25 votes, provided that it takes all the 10 votes it can from the capital Tallinn.
Together with the votes that the two potential allies have in Parliament, the result would be 110, whereas once they become allies they can count additionally on 25 votes from the local councils in which they have a majority combined. That would make 135 votes.
The winner of the vote in the 347-seat electoral college needs at least 174 votes, which means that the two parties are 39 votes short of the target.
Toomla added that Res Publica would be able to count on just 11 votes from local council representatives, the Reform Party on eight, Pro Patria Union on three and the Social Democrats on two. The votes of the parties' MPs would be added to this sum.
Right now, a party preference of just 98 out of the 246 local council representatives that would make up the electoral college (alongside the 101 MPs) can be told with certainty, Toomla observed.
As if referring to the presidential ballot, Savisaar said the Center Party and the People's Union were the biggest, and their high level of representation also meant more responsibility. "We cannot afford to act as some kind of ephemeral project party that may ignore responsibility for tomorrow," he said.
In his address, Savisaar recalled the previous parliamentary elections where cooperation of the Center Party and the People's Union had yielded good results. He also expressed the hope in the name of his party that both sides would draw the right conclusions from it.