Board members of the Social Democratic Party's (SDE) Tartu branch have asked Krista Aru, director of the University of Tartu's library and a former Riigikogu MP, to run on the party's list in Estonia's second city at the March 2023 general election, though one leading member says that the party is currently strife-torn, at least in Tartu.
The SDE branch deputy secretary in Tartu, Heljo Pikhof, told ERR Thursday that: "I have talked to her about this issue. I have invited her to run on our list, and I would be very happy if she did so. We need new people."
Pikhof added that he wouldn't even mind running second on the list in Tartu, behind Aru. "I wouldn't mind, I can be [candidate] number two," Pikhof, the front-runner candidate at the last general election in 2019, said.
Lemmit Kaplinski, also SDE Tartu region vice-chair, confirmed this. "We have spoken to her. We have discussed the names at board level, including Krista Aru's name, though we have not yet agreed on the final order."
Kaplinski would not comment on whether he personally sees Krista Aru as the number one candidate in the city.
Gea Kangilaski, Tartu deputy mayor, though who has tendered her resignation from the party (see below) backed Aru's candidacy. "I have personally told Krista, as well as the regional board, that she would be a strong addition for us. Both as a number one candidate and for the party in general."
ERR asked Aru herself if she will go in with the invitation, though she was undecided at this stage.
She said: "It has not been decided, there are no developments here. It has been discussed before, but there is nothing else to add right now."
Heljo Pikhof picked up a little over 5,000 votes in 2019, which brought the party one Riigkogu seat from that constituency.
Aru was an MP 2015-2019 with the now-defunct Free Party (Vabaerakond), which had six seats at the XIII Riigikogu.
Kangilaski submits resignation, citing internal strife
At the beginning of the week, SDE deputy mayor of Tartu, Gea Kangilaski, tendered her resignation from SDE, though this is pending a meeting with party chair and interior minister Lauri Läänemets.
"I really did submit my resignation," she said.
"I did so because an article by the regional chair (Kadri Leetmaa - ed.) was published, in which she accused me of extorting my way to the first position on the electoral list and suggested that I also start looking for the inner social democrat in myself," Kangilaski continued.
"This hurt my feelings greatly, because I have not unconditionally claimed the first place for myself, but rather I have said that I am willing to run behind either candidate. So this situation is definitely something different," Kangilaski added.
The party's Secretary General, MP Eduard Odinets, says he finds nothing untoward with the situation, noting that a term "social democratic strife" would be overstating things, adding that the process was normal and routine, given that it was politics.
"As always, in every collective and organization, especially in tense times, disagreements arise, discord arises, heated discussions arise. This is normal in a busy process. The only question is who emerges from this process and how, with what feelings, and how one's feelings are controlled," he added.
However, Gea Kangilaski said she would not call the situation normal. "We have had quite a few disagreements here, because this internal atmosphere has become almost unbearable, for many it is completely unbearable," she said.
While the criticism of the disaffected people has been mainly directed against the regional leader Kadri Leetmaa, Eduard Odinets says he thinks this is misplaced.
"I personally have been to Tartu several times now, I have communicated with the regional leader and various members of the region. I have been to meetings, board meetings etc.. And I must say that in every situation there are several parties. I would not direct criticism just towards the regional leader. The leader is doing the best she can in the current situation, communicating with people, organizing meetings, reconciling the parties," Odinets said.
However, if Gea Kangilaski sticks to her resignation, SDE will have to look for a new deputy mayor in Tartu.
The situation will become clearer on Friday, after Kangilaski has met with party chair Läänemets.
The final electoral list will be compiled in December.
Under Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation, candidates are awarded seats once they clinch a threshold number of votes. Any excess votes beyond that threshold are distributed to the next candidate on the list not to have won a seat. In this way, "vote catcher" candidates can help less popular candidates win a seat, sometimes who have won just hundreds of votes in their own right.
This ranking is also used if an elected candidate has to vacate their seat, usually due to being made a government minister – ministers do not sit at the Riigikogu.
Tartu's city government has long been Reform Party-dominated but as noted SDE is in coalition.
The general election is on March 5 2023.
Editor: Andrew Whyte