Coalition negotiations diary: Week starting November 15

Voting in progress at Narva city council.
Voting in progress at Narva city council. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

While the local elections were over a month ago now, some municipal governments still needed finalizing at the start of this week.

Estonia has 79 municipalities, divided into two categories – city, and rural municipalities – though in the first case towns with only a few thousand inhabitants qualify, while quite populous commuter districts outside Tallinn still fall into the latter category (municipal reform in 2017 drastically cut down the number of municipalities, from 213 to the current 79).

Most councils see a coalition, normally featuring a local electoral alliance alongside some of the mainstream parties, and an opposition, featuring the other parties and sometimes electoral alliances which didn't make the cut.

In terms of importance, the role of city/rural municipality mayor (in the latter case, "elder" would be a more accurate translation) is joined by that of council chair – speaker of the council. The latter is a very significant post in that councils cannot function without one, whereas they can function without a municipal mayor, and several are doing just that through to year-end.

Around half of the Riigikogu's MPs sit on local councils as well, including in Tallinn where the two chambers – the parliament and city hall – are within walking distance of each other.

Government ministers, the Riigikogu speaker and his two deputies, and Estonia's seven MEPs, may not take up local council seats (nor Riigikogu seats for that matter).

While the election was on October 17, the intervening time has been filled not only with coalition discussions, but also one or two cases which resulted in criminal investigation over alleged vote-buying. The situation in Narva, one of the two instances, is detailed below (the other was also in Ida-Viru County, at Lüganuse). There were also half-a-dozen electoral complaints which needed resolving by the Supreme Court.

Since this has now been done and councils need to start their work a week after that resolution, this will be the final installment of the coalitions diary, though some councils, for instance Narva's, will be mayor-less for the next few weeks.

Most other outstanding business involved confirming city government leadership, which has to be put to a vote. Since the ruling coalitions obviously have a majority at any council's chambers, this is generally a formality.

Part one of the coalition diary is here, two here and three here.

The source for most of this week's diary is ERR's online news in Estonian, as well as BNS.

Tartu: Urmas Klaas confirmed returning as Mayor

Urmas Klaas (Reform) is confirmed as mayor of Estonia's second city, a post he has held since 2014, with 30 votes in favor and 17 against, BNS reports.

The council also approved the appointment of Raimond Tamm (Reform), Mihkel Lees (Reform), Lemmit Kaplinski (SDE), Gea Kangilaski (SDE) and Priit Humal (Isamaa) as deputy mayors.

Urmas Klaas (Reform). Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

The composition of the city government was endorsed with 29 votes in favor and 15 against.

Katri Raik now Narva council chair, not mayor

Katri Raik, former mayor of Narva, has been elected city council chair (link in Estonian) with 18 votes in favor. Mihhail Stalnuhhin (Center) who ran against Raik for the position, picked up nine votes, while Natalia Umarova (Eesti 200) was elected council deputy chair.

Raik was mayor with the Social Democrats (SDE) but opted to run her own electoral list at the October election, winning enough seats to be able to enter into coalition discussions with Eesti 200.

Narva has been the center of a vote-buying scandal which has reached stalemate as the individual under investigation, Sergei Gorlatš, local Reform Party boss but who ran with Raik's list at the October election, has reneged on a promise to step down from the council while the issue is being resolved.

This also means that the coalition with Eesti 200 is currently off the table.

Katri Raik. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Regional daily Põhjarannik (link in Estonian) said that Raik and her list had initially planned to substitute Andrei Jakovlev for Gorlatš, before the latter's volte-face – Gorlatš would have run for council chair – but this has fallen through, prompting Raik to run for the post herself.

ERR reports that this does not ultimately mean she will not return as mayor.

While the council must start work soon, a mayor does not need to be appointed for another two months, ERR reports.

Raik's list won 15 seats while Eesti 200 won two, giving a one-seat majority in the 31-seat council.

An electoral list headed by former Narva mayor Aleksei Jevgarov (electoral alliance "Elagu Narva") is in opposition, together with the Center Party.

Narva politics is well-known for its rambunctiousness and the current situation is about par for the course. Just a few months after the October 2017 local elections, deputies from the ruling Center Party broke-away and set up their own electoral group.

Raik, as a well-known figure nationally – she is a former interior minister – was likely bussed-in to restore some order, with mixed results.

Urmas Sukles will be Haapsalu mayor

In the more rarefied atmosphere of Haapsalu, Lääne County, veteran politician Urmas Sukles has been confirmed as mayor (link in Estonian) with 17 votes in favor on the 25-seat council (21 deputies were present).

Sukles, who ran with the local electoral alliance "Hari", was already mayor of the western Estonian town over 20 years ago, 1993-2002, and says that restoring the planned rail link to the town is a priority.

Urmas Sukles. Source: Juhan Hepner/ERR

An iconic railway station which once served the resort town has been unused for that purpose since the mid-1990s.

Haapsalu is also home-town of top Estonian tennis player Kaia Kanepi.

Jaanus Tamkivi elected Saaremaa council chair

Jaanus Tamkivi (Reform) was reelected council chair on the island of Saaremaa (link in Estonian); Kristiina Maripuu, of the "Terve Saaremaa" electoral alliance, will be his deputy.

Tamkivi has sat on the municipal council of Estonia's largest island since 1996, and says he hopes that the new council will prove constructive in working together for the benefit of all the islanders, to boost living standards.

Jaanus Tamkivi at the first sitting of the new Saaremaa municipal council make-up. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Madis Sarik new Rae municipal mayor

Madis Sarik (Reform) has been confirmed as mayor of the Rae rural municipality (link in Estonian). Rae is in the Tallinn commuter belt and lies just outside the capital.

Tanel Tammela (Reform) , current head of the municipality, will be deputy mayor, tasked with the maintenance of the municipality's property and facilities and with overseeing new builds (deputy mayors have specific areas of governance assigned to them – ed.).

Bärbel Salumäe and Anna Õuekallas (both Reform) are new municipality government members.

Rae municipal government members (from left) Tanel Tammela, Anna Õuekallas, Bärbel Salumäe and Madis Sarik. Source: Reti Meema

Rae is comparatively unusual in Estonia in that a party, in this case Reform, has sole power there due to its overall majority. This was the case in Tallinn until the October 17 elections, when the party fell two seats short of retaining its majority and went into coalition with the Social Democrats (SDE), which leads us to...

Journalist-activist gets Tallinn city council seat with SDE

Maris Hellrand, a journalist and activist and SDE member, is to sit on Tallinn city council after Riina Sikkut, a former health minister and current Riigikogu MP, rescinded her seat (link in Estonian).

Sikkut said that "On Thursday, the Tallinn city council met for its first session. It is a pleasure and honor that 1,665 voters gave me their support."

"As a journalist, Maris is also able to relay what takes place the city council closer to the capital's residents," Sikkut added of Hellrand, who obtained 484 votes in the October 17 election.

Maris Hellrand (SDE). Source: PÖFF

Under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation, which covers all three levels of direct elections – Riigikogu, European and, as here, local – if an elected deputy vacates their seat for any reason, the next person on the party's numbered list who has not already won a seat is appointed in their stead.

Riigikogu MPs are eligible to sit on municipal legislatures as deputies also, and around half do – only those elected to the executive either at national or local level may not retain a seat elsewhere.

Going in the opposite direction, SDE's former leader, Jevgeni Ossinovski, is taking up the post of city council chair, meaning he does have to relinquish his Riigikogu seat.

SDE unveiled its city council executive leaders at an overcast Nõmme rail station on Thursday.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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