A former Tartu deputy mayor involved in a long-running court case says a recent appeal from the prosecutor's office over a county court acquittal of procedural charges levied against him, will in fact bring him more, not fewer, votes, when he runs in the March 5 Riigikogu elections.
The candidate, Kajar Lember, who has rejoined the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and is running top of the list in the Jõgeva and Tartu counties district, said that the recent developments did not affect his application in the sense that: "The major problem in Estonia is that there is no substantive concept along the lines of the presumption of innocence."
"Nevertheless, it is fortunately the case that you can apply [to run for parliament] regardless of this," Lember told ERR.
"Naturally, were it to transpire that I get elected, then I would certainly propose my parliamentary immunity be removed promptly, so that this process could continue."
Sitting MPs have parliamentary immunity, which must be lifted as a formality in the case of facing court hearings.
Lember also said he felt the case would be more help than hindrance to his Riigikogu bid.
He said: "I'd like to believe that the prosecution's move for an appeal would instead boost the number of votes, simply because it increases the absurdity of this whole thing."
As for the party, SDE, currently polling at just under 7 percent, Lember said: "The situation is certainly difficult, but not catastrophic either. A scenario like this is a clear challenge for someone like me, while I really hope that I can contribute to improving the social situation."
Lember hinted that he had had conversations with other parties, adding that he chose a team with whom he was familiar, over party rating or the substance of any offer to run.
Polarization in Estonia and the wider world and the changed security situation has given the Reform Party a clear advantage, as demonstrated in recent ratings, adding that: "I believe that SDE has shown itself to be a decisive and efficient party during its time in government. I believe that our team during this election is pretty good, and SDE will see better days."
Ultimately, the prosecutor's appeal was the final development which prompted him to run, Lember said, while he would be able to help to render pre-trial proceedings in Estonia "saner" via legislative amendments if he picks up a mandate.
"It is quite clear that politics is made by people, not parties, and this means that I am certainly a person whose role should include, criminal policy if I were elected. I have certainly developed an understanding based on my own experiences with the case regarding some things that still do not work very well in our system, from the presumption of innocence, to procedural deadlines, plus the fact that the extension of tracking permits should be put under stricter control, and that people should not be tracked 'just in case', in the Republic of Estonia. Unfortunately, in my own case, it shows that all this has happened."
Lember left SDE in 2016 but had not cut all ties with the public and potential voters since then, he said, and his entrepreneurial activities have meant he as retained contact with Jõgeva and Tartu counties, the district he is running in, for two decades now.
"I still get some feedback from there. If it wasn't for the support of the community, I certainly wouldn't have taken this step," he added.
A strong state in the current situation is needed, as well as a focus on the public sector and on rural businesses and rural living.
Editor's note: The above is a truncated form of an interview with Kajar Lember conducted by ERR's online news in Estonian.
The Southern District Prosecutor's Office is appealing a Tartu County Court decision to acquit the Lember in relation to charges of procedural restrictions violations, and of bribery
The first tier county court acquitted him last month.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov