Ida-Viru County leaders question frontrunner choices

Kaido Höövelson and Meelis Kiili.
Kaido Höövelson and Meelis Kiili. Source: Patrik Tamm/Ken Mürk/ERR

In Ida-Viru County, regional leaders of both Center and Reform are critical of the decision to bring in candidates from outside the region to run in the upcoming Riigikogu elections. Leaders of both parties say, that it is a necessary move in order to maximize their overall number of votes.

In 2019, Eerik-Niiles Kross represented Reform in Ida-Viru County, while Jaanus Rahumägi and Denis Borodich have also previously stood as candidates in the region.

Reform's regional chair, Jõhvi Mayor Maris Toomel, admitted that when she heard that the party was sending Meelis Kiili to Ida-Viru County as its front-runner this time, she even considered not running herself.

"Unfortunately, previous elections have shown that people who have been frontrunners in Ida-Viru County and won a mandate here have, not given 100 percent focus to the county and local people have certainly not liked that," Toomel said.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who is also head of the Reform Party, said, that sending such candidates to the counties was necessary in order for the party to attain better election results overall. "We have elections at three levels: one is local elections, another is the Riigikogu elections and third is the European elections. When we put the lists together, we have to look at the bigger picture and make sure that, as a party, we do as well as possible, that is, that we bring in votes from all sides," Kallas said.

According to Center Party leader Jüri Ratas, Kaido Höövelson was given the role of party frontrunner in Ida-Viru County because he is a resident of the county, even though he does not live there.

In the case of Center MEP Yana Toom, who is running in Ida-Viru County for the third time, Ratas said that in the periods between elections, Toom's ties with the electorate have weakened. "It's more difficult to keep in touch on a daily basis while (she is) in Brussels, but I can't say that Yana Toom has not taken an interest in the issues of Ida-Viru County, be that energy, employment, or people's socio-economic well-being, they have all been important (to her)," Ratas said.

Marek Kullamägi, however, who leads the Center Party's Ida-Viru County chapter, has decided to run as a candidate on the list of the non-parliamentary party Eesti 200 upcoming Riigikogu elections. Center's deputy chair Yana Toom, thinks Kullamägi should leave the party as a result.

Marek Kullamägi attending the Ida-Viru Center Party chapter meeting on October 30. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Denis Larchenko, a member of Eesti 200's leadership group in Ida-Viru County, said, that Kullamägi running on the party's list in the 2023 Riigikogu elections, would be mutually beneficial.

"The political landscape in Ida-Viru County may change completely in the future. One of our goals is to break the local monopoly of the Center Party," Larchenko said.

Larchenko added, that although Kullamägi remains a Center Party member, he intends to leave in order to join the Eesti 200 team.

However, Kullamägi, whose image has appeared on some of Eesti 200's campaign materials, told ERR that he has no plans to leave the Center Party quite yet.

"I don't see any reason to leave now. Flyers are flyers, posters are posters, but the electoral commission will only officially register candidates in January. Everything before that is just speculation," Kullamägi said, adding that he did expect Center to include him on its electoral list.

However, he also said, that, as he is yet to receive an offer from the party he has been a member of since September 2017, he made the decision to run as a candidate for Eesti 200.

Center's deputy chair Yana Toom, told ERR's Russian-language portal, that Kullamägi had neglected to let his current party colleagues know about his plans for the upcoming elections.

"Will he be thrown out of the Center Party? I think it would be more logical for him to leave (of his own accord). If he calls Eesti 200 the party of the future, why should he continue in the party of the past?" said Toom.

Toom acknowledged that the departure of any party member is a setback, and that Marek Kullamägi leaving would be no exception. Toom also admitted, that Center is facing a difficult situation in Ida-Viru County due to the inability of some members of the party to work well together as a team.

Kullamägi has criticized the Center Party in the not-too-distant past, for choosing Kaido Höövelsson, who has no direct connection to Ida-Viru County, as its regional frontrunner.

"It's the same old policy of bringing in someone from elsewhere as a candidate. Kaido is a great person, but how is he supposed to sell himself to the people of Ida-Viru County? 'Hey, I'm active in Vinni Municipality, I'm in Riigikogu (to represent the people) of Harju County, and  now I love Ida-Viru County." Should we believe that too?" Kullamägi asked.

Kullamägi has also been critical of Yana Toom's activities in the European Parliament.

"Lately in the European Parliament, Toom deals exclusively with the issues of Russian citizens - their pensions, visa problems and so on. In general, everything that should be being dealt with by the Russian embassy," Kullamägi said.

There are six Riigikogu seats up for grabs in Ida-Viru County during the elections in spring.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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