Res Publica forces changes in Tallinn city government

  • 2005-03-09
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - After resorting to political force, Res Publica finally got the support it was looking for from the Reform Party and the People's Union, its coalition partners in Tallinn city government. The three parties signed a coalition supplement agreement late on March 4, which should ensure that the present coalition holds until the next round of municipal elections.

According to the agreement, the publication of Tallinn district newspapers will be discontinued in their present form, the State Audit Office will be asked to audit the city government and the drawing-up of municipal budgets will be depoliticized.

Res Publica also gained the city planning deputy mayor's post, and the Nomme borough governor's position, which had previously been occupied by Reform Party members.

"I am satisfied with the results and believe that we can effectively govern the city with this coalition agreement," Tallinn Mayor Tonis Palts of Res Publica said.

The Tallinn branch of Res Publica offered its coalition partners the chance to enter into negotiations just a day after Palts nearly finalized cooperation talks with the opposition Center Party that began March 2.

Res Publica used the threat of forming a new coalition with the Centrists to force its partners' hands.

It cited the problems of a "difference in working culture" with the Reform Party and the People's Union as the reason behind open talks with the Centrists.

Mayor Palts, along with Center Party chairman and former Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar filled the position of deputy mayor and city district head at a meeting on March 3, in case the two parties went ahead and formed a new coalition.

According to the arrangement, Res Publica would have retained the post of mayor, although the latter denied this, arguing that it was only talked about to gain more power.

"Although accepting the Center Party's [coalition] proposal would have given Res Publica one more district governor's seat, the board decided that increasing its position of power was not an aim in itself for Res Publica, and decided in favor of improving the present coalition agreement," Palts said.

But it's no secret that Palts, who has said that Res Publica needs more key positions in the local government, has recently been pushing for a better power grip. The mayor also criticized district newspapers for serving as PR channels for city district heads instead of disseminating useful information.

Although Palts and Savisaar reached an agreement on closing down such papers, along with 67 other questions, nobody wanted to rush to premature conclusions.

"Sometimes it is more difficult to get over a dog's tail than to get over the dog itself. We are moving slowly but steadily," Savisaar told reporters after one of last week's meetings with Palts.

Keit Pentus, a key member of the Reform Party and head of the central Tallinn district, told BNS that Res Publica had wasted precious time by talking with the opposition instead of constructively discussing all issues with its current coalition partners.

If Res Publica had dumped its two coalition partners, with whom it runs the city, it would have been the second power shift in the Estonian capital in the last five months.

In October 2004 the Reform Party parted ways with the Center Party and, through a dramatic battle in the city council, which involved deputies changing party affiliation overnight, built a new power bloc with Res Publica and the People's Union.

On Oct. 14, minutes after becoming the mayor of Tallinn, Palts said he "did not have a reason to believe that the Reform Party was untrustworthy."

Siim Roode, a leader of the Tallinn branch of Res Publica, said last week after talks with the Centrists were announced that the city was experiencing a crisis caused by differences in the work culture of the coalition partners.

"We decided [at the March 1 meeting of Res Publica's Tallinn branch] to start talks to find solutions for the emerging crisis and possible cooperation in managing the city," said Roode.

Res Publica chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts said that, in accordance with the established traditions of political ethics, he would not interfere in the party at a municipal level.

"The most important thing is that Tallinn should have a normal local government that is capable of working and that will not have these permanent disagreements we all see and I, as a city resident, see," Parts said at a press conference last week.

The PM added that, in his opinion, the possible change of rule in Tallinn would not affect the national government coalition, which also consists of the same three parties.

However, history says otherwise. The Reform Party-led collapse of the Reformist, Pro Patria Union and Moderate Tallinn coalition in December 2001 led to the downfall of the national coalition, which was made up of the same three parties in January 2002.

Res Publica deputy chairman and MP Jaanus Rahumagi criticized Tallinn Mayor Palts for accepting a possible alliance with the Center Party.

"What do you think, Tonis, how many members of Res Publica, our current supporters and voters, will be disappointed if you make a deal with that local branch of Putinists?" Rahumagi declared in an open letter to Palts.

Last year the Center Party signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, a pro-Kremlin Russian party. The right-wing Res Publica also criticized the somewhat leftist Centrists on several domestic and foreign policy issues prior to the last general elections.