Savisaar sacked, Palts elected mayor

  • 2004-10-20
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Telecommunications millionaire and Res Publica member Tonis Palts became mayor of Tallinn on Oct. 14 after a no-confidence motion against Edgar Savisaar was approved thanks to a number of renegade deputies from the Center Party.

At an improvised press conference after the council session, the newly elected Palts, in addition to repeating a mantra about the new coalition's better budget policy and free-time options for youth, said that city residents were in for more good things. "It's clear that during budget talks with the Reform Party, some questions will emerge. Finalizing a budget is a very difficult job," said Palts.

Responding to charges that the new coalition ally in Tallinn, the Reform Party, couldn't be trusted after what it did to Savisaar, Palts said he had no prejudices against the Reformists. "I have no reason to believe that the Reform Party is untrustworthy," he said.

Political analysts said that the Reform Party's new coalition with Res Publica, and the People's Union - the same trio that runs the national government - seemed stronger as there were only 23 votes out of a possible 63 cast against Palts, who had a stint as mayor in 2001.

The new mayor said that more Centrists could join Res Publica before the next municipal elections.

But Savisaar didn't go down without a fight. Prior to the no-confidence vote, he granted bonuses to the outgoing members of his Center Party, including head of Tallinn public relations Alan Alakula and the party's deputy mayors. (Savisaar himself is to receive about 10,000 euros as compensation for losing his job.)

Other Centrists, full of reproach to the defectors and ex-coalition partners, delivered a number of emotional presession speeches, the most dramatic coming from City Council member Dimitri Klenski. Known for his sharp statements, Klenski climbed onto the rostrum wearing a sheet of paper with the words "For sale" on his chest. He criticized Jevgeni Karavajev, a Centrist who was the last to change his party affiliatio, for a weak sense of political culture and lackadaisical involvement in the faction's work.

"Karavajev said he was a mere screw in the political machine. I am telling you, Mr. Karavajev, you are not a screw - you are shit!" Klenski exclaimed in Russian, causing a mixed reaction of laughter and moaning from the audience.

In another dangerously offensive remark, Klenski said that deputies from the Center Party who had changed their affiliation should "prepare a piece of rope for themselves before somebody else did it for them."

Res Publica's Kaupo Reede responded by expressing hope that Klenski knew public libel was a prosecutable offense in Estonia.

In his final address to the City Council before the vote, Savisaar said the opposition's budget-related claims were a mere formality to get rid of the centrists' rule. Briefly describing the coalition's achievements in the capital, the Center Party leader said that city residents were apparently happy with the coalition as its approval ratings were high. He also drew parallels between Palts and himself, saying that both faced confidence votes over budget issues.

Finally, he offered an olive branch to the turncoat deputies. "I understand the possible personal and financial problems of the Centrists who have changed sides, and I forgive them," he said.

To add dramatic effect, a girl carrying the flowers and with eyes full of tears gazed at the cameras-surrounding Savissar, who was criticized for ruining Tallinn city finances and using the city's PR office as a Center Party propaganda tool.

In the end, 34 out of 63 deputies supported the no-confidence vote.

Shortly afterward, Savisaar said that the change of power was a prelude for the possible merger of Res Publica and the Reform Party, both right-wing parties, which in turn could precipitate another government crisis. The outgoing mayor said that Estonia could see yet another new prime minister if such a scenario were to become reality.

In accordance with Estonian law, Savisaar could reclaim his seat in the City Council, but in an e-mail sent hours before the vote to the city government, Savisaar claimed that he would never work again for Tallinn.

The Centrists currently have 26 seats on the City Council. Res Publica and the Reform Party hold 18 and 11 respectively, while the Estonian United People's Party has three seats and the People's Union four.

Tallinn's new deputy mayors are Kaupo Reede and Diana Ingerainen from Res Publica, Peep Aaviksoo, Tatjana Muravjova and Ulle Rajasalu from the Reform Party, and Vladimir Maslov of the People's Union.

In addition to this political card shuffle, two out of the Center Party's four city borough heads have stated their resignation. The former working term of a city borough head - a politically distributed position - ended when the new city council was elected.