An elected councilor in the eastern Estonian town of Narva has been suspended pending the results of an investigation into alleged vote-buying. The period of suspension is likely to last at least three months.
The councilor Sergei Gorlatš said while he had neither broken any laws nor ethical codes, he agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.
"In effect, I started with that yesterday. I will continue to do so until the whole truth has been made clear, so I have to step down during the course of the investigation," Gorlatš said.
Katri Raik, Narva mayor, told ERR's Russian-language portal about the development. While Raik was previously mayor with the Social Democratic Party (SDE), she ran her own electoral alliance at the October 17 elections, which included Gorlatš, a Reform Party member who had sat as Narva deputy mayor under Raik and with that party.
The Raik-led electoral alliance was due to sign a coalition agreement with Eesti 200 to govern the town of around 54,000 inhabitants for the next four years, but due to the investigation, this has been put on hold.
An alternate member from lower down the electoral list will substitute for Gorlatš until he returns - if he returns. While the post of council chair which Gorlatš had been due to take up – a very powerful position virtually on a par with that of mayor – will be given to Andrei Yakovlev instead.
Katri Raik's electoral list won 15 seats on the 31-seat Narva city council, just shy of a majority. Raik herself picked up 4,512 votes, by far the largest number of anyone in the electoral alliance, while Gorlatš, who came second, polled 408 votes.
Gorlatš' suspension will last for three months initially, pending the investigation.
Gorlatš is alleged to have invited around 40 Narva residents to an election week day out, which took in a spa visit, picnic, guided walk and transport, at his own expense, the catch allegedly being that the attendees were induced to then cast an e-vote in his favor, which around half of them did, according to reports.
The incident is an embarrassment for Raik as she had previously run on an anti-corruption platform in a city formerly the fiefdom of the Center Party.
Electoral alliances are peculiar to local elections and often end up polling more highly than the established, mainstream parties. Two such alliances ran in Tallinn, though neither entered office.
Estonia's modified d'Hondt system means that popular-vote catching candidates – such as Raik, a former interior minister – are often placed at the top of the list.
This enables any excess votes beyond the threshold needed to clinch a seat trickle down to less popular candidates lower down on the list, both maximizing the number of seats that electoral alliance or party wins, and enabling candidates who would not have won a seat in their own right still to do so.
Editor: Andrew Whyte