Coalition talks have ground to a halt in the border town of Narva after a councilor who stepped down due to a criminal investigation into his alleged involvement in vote buying activity during the October 17 local election has changed his mind, and will retain his seat.
The development may weaken the planned coalition's position.
The councilor, Sergei Gorlatš,, said of his position that: "The main goal is to make life better in Narva. I have time to try to fulfill my election promises to my constituents."
At the same time, this makes the survival of a coalition of mayor Katri Raik's electoral list, which Gorlatš is a member of, and Eesti 200, look critical, one day before the council is due to hold its first session.
Raik, previously mayor with the Social Democratic Party (SDE), said that: "The events in Kohtla-Järve have been instructive for all concerned, and showed that the election victory is not yet coming to power. So indeed, the situation is precarious, but let's just say it is not hopeless."
Raik was referring to events in another Ida-Viru County town, Kohtla-Järve, where a proposed SDE/Reform coalition, joined by two electoral alliances, fell through, with Center entering the fray and going into coalition with Reform and one of the alliances (Progress).
The original coalition would have represented the first time Center had not been in office in Kohtla-Järve for quarter of a century.
Whether something similar will happen in Narva, a former Center stronghold, until 2018 when dissident members left to form their own group, "Meie kodu, Narva", is not yet clear, though Gorlatš has reneged on his earlier promise to suspend his seat while the criminal investigation is ongoing.
Gorlatš said that stepping down would prejudice the case against him.
While Gorlatš has pledged to support Raik's and Eesti 200's candidate for council chair – a role roughly as powerful as that of mayor – Center intends to put up its own candidate, while Raik may look for support from the opposition parties as well, ERR reports.
Gorlatš is chair of Narva's Reform Party branch, but opted to run on Raik's list in the local elections.
He is alleged to have invited over 40 local residents on a day out, including a trip to a spa center, all at his expense and at the end of which attendees were encouraged to cast an e-vote for him, which around half of them did, it is reported.
Gorlatš and an accomplice are under investigation, directed by the prosecutor's office.
Electoral alliances are peculiar to the local elections and provide an alternative to the mainstream parties, and often enter into coalition with some of them.
While the election was on October 17, much of the intervening time nationwide has been taken up with coalition negotiations and electing municipality leaders.
Now that the Supreme Court has resolved the half-dozen complaints that arose from the election – one of which has also led to a criminal case being opened – councils have to start their work in the next few days.
Ida-Viru County has traditionally been a key Center stronghold, but in recent years – starting with the 2019 general election – the party has been losing support, while an attempt by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) to exploit the ensuing vacuum, mainly by focusing on social issues, has met with only limited success.
Editor: Andrew Whyte