Virve Linder-led Kohtla-Järve city government passes vote, enters office

The eastern Estonian town of Kohtla-Järve now has a local government after a second vote on the matter Tuesday found Mayor Virve Linder's (Isamaa) administration take office, ending weeks of deadlock and lifting the threat of the city government having to be dissolved altogether.

The newly-elected city government is, however, effectively ruling from a position of minority in that it was only voted for by nine deputies from 25 on the city council.

The lineup passed with nine votes in favor and five against at Tuesday's session (see gallery).

Mayor Linder said of the result that: "Life demonstrates that you have to be prepared for anything. I very much hope that the members of the Kohtla-Järve city council, who made this a decision today, did so in good faith, and will give the new city government time to settle in, and will also provide the city with much-needed and long-awaited stability."

Kohtla-Järve had been without a functioning city government since last October, when corruption allegations facing the majority of the former administration's members led to its collapse.

Linder, a former prison director, then struggled to get her coalition approved by the 25-seat council.

Linder is joined by three deputy mayors, Erik Setškov, who has the development and economy portfolio, Olga Pihlak with the social portfolio, and Kaire Jõe, with the education and culture field.

Linder said the first thing that the her administration will deal with is in locking down the city's budget - reportedly around €6 million in the red.

However, another key post, that of city council chair, needs to be resolved also after Hendrik Agur, who invited Linder to run for mayor in late November, was later voted out of office, leaving the post vacant.

The previous council chair, Tiit Lillemets (Center), was one of those caught up in the corruption allegations and criminal investigation.

SDE councilor and MP (Riigikogu members can also hold city council seats, though not local government posts) Eduard Odinets voted against the new lineup both when it failed to enter office on January 30, and at Tuesday's vote.

Odinets says a minority government is a first for the town of 35,000 inhabitants.

He said: "What is clear is that in order to make any decision, the city government will need the support of a majority on the city council (ie. 13 or more votes -ed.). This means that we are certainly dealing with a minority government. This is a first for our city. Let's wait and see how this minority government might find compromises and work with different forces within the city council."

On January 30, Linder's coalition received nine votes in favor and 15 against. A change to the deputy mayoral lineup did not increase the number of votes the new government received, but there were 11 abstentions, hence the vote ended up nine in favor to five opposed.

One of the abstainers was Anton Dijev (Center), who also faintly raised eyebrows over a motion of no confidence in the mayor that was originally on the Tuesday council meeting agenda.

Dijev, who voted against Linder's coalition on January 30, said that his change of heart resulted from the fact that had the city government not entered office this time, it would have had to have been dissolved altogether, meaning that the long-running power vacuum would have continued and maybe gotten worse.

The last sitting Kohtla-Järve city government was engulfed in corruption allegations relating to municipal service contracts awarded to companies owned by local businessman and former local politician Jevgeni Ossipenko, in Kohtla-Järve itself, and in the neighboring Ida-Viru County town of Jõhvi.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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