British journalist and political commentator Abdul Turay has accepted an offer by the Social Democratic Party to stand as one of its candidates for the Tallinn City Council in October, a move that makes him the first black man, and one of the first Western expatriates, to run in local elections in Estonia.
Speaking to ERR News, the 46-year-old from Chelmsford in Essex confirmed that he will be running as a candidate for the opposition party in the City Center district, the most high profile of the capital's electoral zones.
In the four years that he has been living in Estonia, Turay has become known for his political columns, published by a prominent national daily, and his book, "Small White Nation." He raised his political profile further this June by taking part in a one-on-one debate with Martin Helme, board member of the fringe Conservative People's Party, over the latter's anti-immigrant, “If you're black, go back” remarks.
Turay said that he was approached by the Social Democratic Party's mayoral candidate for Tallinn, Andres Anvelt, two months ago with the offer to run partly because of the party's desire to have a more international image, as well as its agenda to give the city a more international image.
His decision this week to accept the offer, however, was because of the birth of his son on Saturday, he told ERR News.
“I may not be Estonian, but my son is, and because he's too young to speak for himself, I have to speak for him,” he said. “And the best way to do that is to get involved directly rather than just writing about it in the newspaper.”
Another reason he gave for standing is that he wants to be the voice of the city's international community. “It can't be said that those people should be denied representation,” he said.
At the same time, he said he hoped that his running as a black candidate in a country where non-white ethnic minorities are almost non-existent would bolster public interest in the political process.
“If you're someone who's outraged at the prospect of a black candidate, or even just Abdul Turay standing as a candidate because he's a foreigner [...] then you should get involved too,” he said.
“Something like this happening, someone who is an unusual candidate I think would be a motivation for people to take an interest in what actually is going on and what actually happens in local government, how it's run, and what you can do to be involved. I think that's important for democracy,” he said.
Turay, who describes his political orientation as more conservative than that of the Social Democrats, said that he was also offered a spot on Tallinn City Council candidate's list by right-wing IRL. He said that he, nevertheless, decided to accept the Social Democrats' candidacy because the party's views are more alligned with the expatriate community that he hopes to represent.
Estonian election law allows EU citizens who are residents, or any long-term resident regardless of citizenship, to stand in local elections. The same are eligible to vote.
In the October 20 elections, the Social Democrats, along with fellow opposition parties Reform and IRL are hoping to break the majority position held in Tallinn by the Center Party, and to oust long-time mayor and Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar.
Experts predict that the Tallinn elections could be very close, with the Center Party's support hovering only slightly above the combined popularity level of the three opposition parties.