Coalition negotiations diary: Week starting November 1
While polling closed at this year's local elections three weeks ago now, this has been followed period of coalition negotiations across most of Estonia's 79 municipalities, large and small.
Most municipalities will be ruled by coalitions, made up of a combination of any of the mainstream political parties and/or region-specific electoral alliances, following the October 17 polling day.
While parties such as Reform and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), or Eesti 200 and EKRE, may present themselves at the national level – and for international media consumption – as implacable enemies, there are plenty of cases of these parties cooperating at the local level and entering office together; the practicalities of business and infrastructure links perhaps trumping any supposed idealism.
The relationship between regional and national politics is intertwined further by the fact that around a half of Riigikogu MPs are municipal councilors, either in office or in opposition – some in Tallinn, where the council chambers are a walk down the hill from Toompea, while others take up seats elsewhere.
In some instances – for instance in former rural affairs minister Mart Järvik's case (see below) – more than one municipal position is held by the same person.
Similar themes, however, tend to recur wherever coalition discussions go on – education, cultural facilities and local infrastructure are just three of the commonest.
The number of seats on a given council is usually in the 20s in most smaller municipalities (Tallinn, by comparison, has 79 seats at its council chamber). Naturally a coalition, or in a few cases, such as Rae, a party ruling alone, needs a majority – sometimes parties which already have a majority add in one more smaller coalition partner to boost their margin.
Key positions are not only municipality mayor – many of whom are women – but also council chair, with the two roles almost resembling a Roman Republic-style, two-consul set-up, as well as deputy mayors. There are usually several of the latter, holding responsibility for different aspects of the running of a municipality.
This is week two of a weekly digest ERR News has put together so far, of both signed deals and ongoing discussions. Last week's diary is here.
All links in Estonian unless otherwise noted, the dates refer to when the developments were reported in the media.
Center and Reform join local electoral alliance in Jõgeva
The government of the central Estonian town of Jõgeva and its surrounding rural municipality, population c. 13,500, is to consist of a tripartite Center Party/Reform Party/electoral alliance coalition, regional daily Tartu Postimees reports.
The electoral alliance in this case is called Omad Inimised (which roughly translates as "Own people"), while the coalition deal was signed Thursday.
Asso Nettan (Omad Inimesed) is to be council chair, while he said of the coalition that: "We are three equal partners, and everyone had to make some concessions, because the plans and wishes tend to be bigger than the municipal budget allows."
Angela Saksing (Center) is to be rural municipality mayor, and stressed continuity with local projects such as constructing a sports hall at the Jõgeva basic school, a health center adjacent to the town's hospital, and work to improve an orphanage.
Lihula school key priority in Lääneranna municipality
Armand Reinmaa, owner of the Massu manor (Massu mõis, pictured) will be council chair of Lääneranna rural municipality, population c. 5,000, in western Estonia, regional daily Lääne Elu reports.
A new school building and maintaining the school's current Lihula upper secondary (Gümnaasium) status were key points on the coalition agreement, Reimaa, who ran with a local electoral alliance, Lääneranna, said, while the design tender for the work on the school building will be announced before year-end, Tiina Lobja, also with Lääneranna, said.
EKRE ex-minister joins Türi council
Former rural affairs minister Mart Järvik (EKRE) is to join the municipal government at Türi, Järva County, Järvamaa Teataja reports, while retaining a city council post in Pärnu also.
The ruling coalition consists of Tulevikuvald Türi electoral alliance – whose members Ele Enn and Kati Nõlvak will be rural municipality elder (Vallavanem) and municipal manager (Valdkonna juht) respectively – along with EKRE and the Reform Party. Reform's Maarja Brause will be council chair.
Tulevikuvald Türi has nine seats, EKRE three, Reform two. Another electoral alliance, Koduvald Türi, has nine seats also and will be in opposition.
The tripartite coalition deal was signed the previous week, with Järvik set to head up economic affairs, a position his experience lands itself to, Niglas told the paper.
Järvik said that his work in Türi, population around 10,700, will be very similar to that which he had been doing in Pärnu city.
A new management model aimed at "eliminating the jobs of politicized officials" and centralizing these around on municipal deputy head and then bureaucrats, such as Järvik, with particular areas of responsibility is one of the coalition's main aims.
Rakvere city council hit hard by coronavirus outbreak
Isamaa and Center rapidly inking a deal in the Lääne-Viru town of Rakvere just days after the election has, nonetheless, been hampered, not by politicking but by a coronavirus outbreak which led to the hospitalization of the city's mayor, Triin Varek (Center).
Two deputy mayors also contracted the virus, while another official ended up in an intensive care unit, Virumaa Teataja (VT) reports.
Varek is now out of hospital and back at home. "Thank you all for wishes for my recovery," she wrote on her social media account, VT reports. "Full recovery will still takes time, but each day I'm a little better than the day before," she continued, noting that her personalized experience of the healthcare system first hand during a pandemic revealed a situation which was: "Very difficult, with hospitals lacking support."
The outbreak does not change anything in terms of both the signed deal and the convening of the council, which will still have to go ahead soon, including the formal election of Varek and her deputies. A spokesperson told VT that the council had by law to convene within a week of the official election results being confirmed, which means some time in the penultimate week of November, as things stand.
Leading Mulgi candidate declines to take up position on council
While getting more votes than anyone else on a party's list may seem an honor, for one councilor, Eveli Allik, in the Viljandi County municipality of Mulgi, this was not enough motivation to take up a position in the municipal government.
Allik picked up 122 votes – "even more than Peeter Rahnel", as Sakala put it (Rahnel polled 102 votes).
She ran for Isamaa, which will be in coalition with Center, but told regional daily Sakala that: "The office of deputy mayor is a hard job with great responsibility, but my family comes first in my life, while this is followed in turn by the development of a joint venture with my partner."
Sakala explained that as a local born and bred and one who has stayed in the region, residing in the village of Laatre, 12km from the (Latvian) border village of Räägu, where she grew up, the community most likely trusts Allik and appreciates her energy and entrepreneurship at a time when many rural areas suffer depopulation.
Jüri Patune, also running for Isamaa, said that if there were more people like Allik, Estonian life would progress with much more giant steps.
Patune said: "She is a patriot for her homeland, an active and brave young lady who is very pleasant and businesslike to communicate with, and she clearly speaks out when she sees that things are not right."
As to whether she may return to active politics and be a star of the future, Patune said that: "She is young and able to learn, she still has enough time to set higher goals for herself."
Mulgi mayor Imre Jugomäe (Center) concurred, saying that Allik was not an attention-seeker: "Putting on airs, so to speak, is not her style, and she simply does not speak just for the sake of speaking."
Allik herself denies she is one of the much-maligned (at least in the Estonian media) "vote magnets" – high profile candidates who "catch" votes due to their popularity and often do not, and in some cases cannot, take up a seat later on – given her commitment to the local community. Allik's main business enterprise is in hairdressing and beauty
An example of her concern for local issues the paper noted was her concern over a planned refuse site in Abja-Paluoja, due to be built by 2025 but directly adjacent to residential areas. Concern and suspicion led to the project being scrapped, Sakala reports.
Mulgi rural municipality has a population of around 7,400.
Lüganuse gets Isamaa mayor
Finally, Marja-Liisa Veiser (Isamaa) is to be rural municipality mayor in Lüganuse, Ida-Viru County, Põhjarannik reports, following prolonged coalition discussions. Dmitri Dmitrijev (Center) is to be council chair, Arno Strauch, from yet another imaginatively-entitled electoral alliance, Oma Rahva Eest ("For our own people").
Lüganuse, population around 11,700, is no stranger to the news, especially concerning energy politics. A monumentally complicated tale of a, so far ill-fated, planned wind farm has in recent months seen competition from an outcry over the firing of a school principal and, most recently, a planned pulp mill.
Former Lüganuse mayor Andrea Eiche, now replaced by Veiser, was elected to the post no fewer than three times, between 2017 and 2020.
The overall provisional election results from the October 17 polls are here. Please note these are not quite final – the Supreme Court has to review the half-dozen complaints received by the deadline, and these and other issues are not likely to be processed until mid-month, meaning local councils will start their sittings about a month after the election took place.
Tartu Postimees, Järva Teataja, Virumaa Teataja, Sakala and Põhjarannik all belong to the Postimees Group. Lääne Elu is independent.
In case you missed it...
Coalition negotiations and other municipality related news already covered in English by ERR News, week starting November 1:
Four-party coalition signed in Viimsi municipality
Lääne-Harju municipality issuing gift voucher as vaccine inducement
Narva councilor suspected of vote-buying suspended for at least 3 months
Former prosecutor general to be Saue deputy council chair
Local election complaints delaying municipal council session start date
South Estonian municipality calls for nationwide Covid lockdown
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Editor: Andrew Whyte