TALLINN - Estonia made a small contribution to the history of electoral democracy last weekend as thousands were allowed to cast their vote from home, the first instance of online voting, while the poll itself propelled Edgar Savisaar and his Center Party back to power in the Estonian capital.
The left-of-center Center Party won 41 percent of the vote in Tallinn, while the right-wing Reform Party and Pro Patria managed 21 and 12 percent respectively.
The results give the Centrists 32 seats in the 63-seat City Council in Tallinn, while the Reformists, the Centrists' allies in a previous city government, will have 15 seats.
But with 32 mandates, the Centrists are in a position to govern the city alone. Given legislators' notorious tendency to switch party allegiances, it is possible that the Center Party will be able to muster some additional seats to give it an even larger majority.
However, Savisaar, who is currently economy minister, said the party did not want to rule the capital alone and was keeping all its options open to forming a coalition.
Prior to the poll, Savisaar said that, if victorious in Tallinn, he would like to return to the mayor's post. However, after the Oct. 16 ballot he was more circumspect, telling the Baltic News Service that he first needed to talk with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip about the situation.
Several Reformists, including PM Ansip, spoke openly about their reluctance to join a coalition with the Centrists given the latter party's overwhelming victory in Tallinn.
"If a single force has over 50 percent of the deputies' seats, this isn't very advisable," Ansip told the Postimees daily. "We've made this step once and saw that it didn't work."
The Social Democratic Party and the People's Union also rejected the possibility of a coalition with the Center Party in Tallinn. The Centrists invited the two parties to open coalition talks on Oct. 18, but in the words of SDP member Rein Org, "Our side of the desk will remain vacant.
The SDP did say, however, that it would accept an invitation if the Center Party admits its connection with a controversial curd snack advertising campaign ahead of the polls. The Centrists refused, saying negotiations could only be successful if no prior conditions were attached.Nationwide, the Center Party collected some 126,000 votes, or 25.5 percent of the total and slightly less than in the last round of municipal elections in 2002. The Reformists were second with 12.5 percent and Pro Patria third with 8.6 percent. The right-wing Res Publica, which did so well in national elections in 2003, managed to gain only 8.5 percent of vote across the country, a dramatic decrease from 15.2 percent three years ago. Turnout was surprisingly low, with only 47 percent of eligible voters bothering to cast their ballot. In Tallinn the number was only 43.4 percent. In 2002 turnout was approximately 53 percent. Two percent of all votes were cast online, an innovation that had met much resistance, particularly from the president's administration, but that observers said was pulled off without a glitch. Many, however, can't say the same about the elections overall. PM Ansip, for instance, voiced an opinion that the elections were not fair. Though political street advertisements were forbidden, a logo for a curd snack that was remarkably similar to the Center Party's emblem was plastered across the capital. Many still insist that the ad was a deliberate ploy, but the Center Party has denied any association. "People were frightened by slogans, 'If you do not give your vote to the Reform Party, Savisaar will come into power,'" Edgar Savisaar, chairman of the Center Party, said on national TV. Political scientist Rein Toomla told national TV that all the trashing of Edgar Savisaar, who was accused of ethics breaches and befriending the Kremlin, actually made the Center Party chief even stronger.Savisaar said his party could have actually done even better if preliminary results had not been published. Center loyalists who saw the inevitable victory did not bother to go out and vote, said the economy minister. The Center Party did, however, receive a lot of support from non-Estonian speakers, the elderly and less educated people (see story on Page 3). Enn Eesmaa, deputy chairman of the Center Party, said that support was equally high among all groups of people. "There are several parties who promise a lot, but do little. People remember what has been done and promised," Eesmaa told The Baltic Times.In Tartu, the country's intellectual capital, the Reformists won 19 seats on that city's 49-member council, while the nationalist Pro Patria Union came in second with 9 mandates and the Centrists in third with eight. Currently the Center Party governs Tartu together with the Reformists. The Centrists, who are roughly placed left of center on the political spectrum for their social programs, also did well in the northeastern part of the country. In Narva, the party received 59 percent of the votes, followed by Res Publica with 15 percent, while in Kohtla-Jarve, Usaldus, a party related to the Center Party, received 67 percent of the votes.In Parnu, the fourth largest city, the results were more diversified – 24 percent in favor of the Center Party, 20 percent for the Reformists and 14 percent for Res Publica and Pro Patria Union.In general, Res Publica lost the most votes compared to previous elections - 14 seats in the Tallinn Council and five in Tartu. Leaders of the party, however, consider the results satisfactory. The party received 9 percent of the total votes in Estonia, which is 5 percent more than predicted.