KOOS saga reveals shortcomings in party registration process

Tartu Courthouse. September 8, 2022.
Tartu Courthouse. September 8, 2022. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Confusion following the foundation of the KOOS party testifies to the deficiencies in the registration procedures of political parties. These in essence do not permit the state to check whether one of the most important requirements for the formation of a new party – that it has amassed at least 500 members – has actually been met.

The KOOS party is a pro-Kremlin organization which ran candidates at the March 5 Riigikogu election, bundled with those of a similarly pro-Russian party, the EÜVP. The party's leader was detained just after the March 5 Riigikogu election by the Internal Security Service (ISS), while board member Oleg Ivanov has fled Estonia for the Russian Federation, vowing to run the party's affairs from the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.

Tartu County Court spokesperson Anett Kreitsman told ERR on Tuesday that: "Applications to join the political party are not in the possession of the registry department at Tartu County Court."

The same court told ERR last week that the those registering the party had submitted the requested documents, including a list with at least 500 members, as per electoral requirements to constitute a political party.

Meanwhile evening paper Õhtuleht (link in Estonian) reported on its website Tuesday that the county court registry department does not vet the membership list, since the party itself is responsible for doing this.

Õhtuleht also wrote that several people on the "KOOS organisatsioon osutub suveräänsusele" list, had instead submitted an application to join another, albeit similarly named organization - Eesti Patriootide Erakonda KOOS, but these had not been registered at the county court.

In other words, people may have ended up "joining" a pro-Kremlin political party without having expressed any desire to do so, and had in effect been co-opted for membership.

KOOS: Our members are only those who wanted to join

In a letter sent to the media, the coordinator of the party, Stepan Romanov, admitted that since the registration department did not confirm the name they originally wanted, they had to change it, but left the party's program and statutes unchanged, as well as the list of the majority of members who wrote the application for membership.

KOOS itself rejects this.

Party organizer Stepan Romanov sent an open letter to the media stating that since the county court registry department had not confirmed the name that they originally wanted, namely Estonian Patriote Erakond KOOS, they had had to alter the name, though the party's platform and statutes remained unchanged, he said.

The "majority" of the people on the list were those who had intended to join KOOS.

Romanov added that: "After the relevant name change decision had been made, all interested parties were properly informed about that fact, and given the opportunity to decline to join the party under its new name."

"This means that as of today, the list of party members includes those who wanted to continue down the route, with us, in the life of the Eesti Vabariigi patriootide party."

The county court spokesperson, Anett Kreitsman, also told ERR how the founders of KOOS had begun their efforts to register their movement as a political party in February, but due to deficiencies in the founding documents, this was delayed until the beginning of May, ie. after the election.

Court representative: Procedures would need clarification

Kreitsman conceded to ERR the need to specify procedures for the formation and registration of political parties.

"The registry department at the county court has fulfilled its obligations. We have drawn attention to the issues, but making changes in the regulations does not lie within our competence," Kreitsman went on.

As to the question of what an individual should do if they discover that they "belong" to a political party that they had not expressed any wish to join or that they actively did not wish to be a member of, the representative of the county court said that in that case they must submit an application, to the political party, or directly to the online commercial register, to rescind membership. 

Should the leadership of the party refuses to exclude a person from the list, there is also the option of contacting the police.

At the same time, until the number of party members drops below the 500-mark, Kreitsman said, the county court is toothless to act in monitoring members.

However, in the current situation, where there are doubts that the membership of the political party KOOS is not as large as required, the Tartu County Court cannot do anything. "We can start monitoring when the number of party members drops below 500," Kreitsman said.

The KOOS/Vmeste (the words mean "together" in Estonian and Russian respectively) party hit the headlines when Aivo Peterson polled at 3,969 in the Ida-Viru County electoral district, within a few hundred votes of clinching a personal mandate, on March 5.

Six days later, on March 11, the ISS arrested Peterson and two other men on suspicion of creating a relationship hostile to the Estonian state, while at the request of the prosecutor, the suspects were later taken into custody for a two-month period.

Oleg Ivanov fled Estonia fearing that he, too, would be detained by the ISS, also known by its Estonian acronym, Kapo.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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