TALLINN - A Supreme Court challenge to Estonia's recent elections has failed to unseat the nation's president-elect, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, despite the court's finding that at least one electoral college member was wrongly allowed to cast his vote. The news spurred Edgar Savisaar, controversial leader of the Center Party, to declare the election illegitimate. "I guess Toomas Hendrik Ilves is bound to feel quite bitter today," Savisaar said on Sept. 29. "He is bound to realize that the chair he is going to occupy on Oct. 9 has been obtained in an illegitimate manner."
Savisaar, who supported Ilves' rival Arnold Ruutel, said the National Electoral Committee had been corrupted.
The Supreme Court challenge was initiated by Viktor Fjodorov, a member of the Center Party, who felt he had wrongly been denied a seat in the electoral college, the body that elected the president on Sept. 23.
While most local councils are allocated one seat in the electoral college, a schism between members of the Loksa area council lead to two representatives being dispatched.
A council meeting nominated Igor Ignahhin, a member of the Reform party and a supporter of Ilves, to represent Loksa in the electoral college. However, a breakaway group convened a second meeting and selected Fiodorov, a Centrist and supporter of Ruutel.
The National Electoral Committee was forced to accept just one representative from Loksa and chose Ignahhin.
However, on Sept. 29, the constitutional review chamber of the Supreme Court found that neither man should have been allowed to take a seat in the electoral college. The actions of the Loksa council were not held to be lawful, and as a result, the court annulled the decision of the National Electoral Committee.
The National Electoral Committee said the decision would not affect the overall outcome of the election, because Ilves still maintained a lead over Ruutel.
Ilves was elected 174 votes to Ruutel's 162. Either candidate needed to obtain 173 votes to claim victory. Even with the Loksa vote annulled, Ilves still held the required majority.
"It did not effect the election because the elected president had the majority required," National Electoral Committee spokeswoman Epp Maarten told The Baltic Times.
Yet Savisaar maintains that the election was corrupt and unfair.
"The ruling by the Supreme Court shows that the electoral college was divided half and half. The legitimacy of the president elected in the Estonia Concert Hall [the election venue] is zero by today," he said. "It's not yet in negative territory, but it's zero. Another vote less, and Ilves would not have been elected."
The Center Party leader singled out Heiki Sibul, chairman of the National Electoral Committee, for having deprived Ruutel of votes.
"Sibul is politically biased and should not continue in this job. It's the height of effrontery if the election commission at first conspicuously protracts matters and then makes a decision one day before the election when it's no longer physically possible to appeal," he said. "I'd like to laud the state's judicial system 's the Supreme Court was more objective than I'd have dared hope."
But Savisaar himself came under immediate fire for his comments, with opponents claiming he had "undermined the image and reputation of Estonia" by disputing the election results.
Tonis Lukas, co-chairman of opposition party the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, said Savisaar deserved to be sacked from his ministerial position in the government for his comments.
Lukas said Savisaar had tried to destabilize the political situation before the election, and was trying to do so again by urging people not to recognize Ilves' victory.
"Savisaar has overstepped the boundary a statesman must not cross," Lukas said. "He aims to give Estonia in the eyes of the world the status of a developing country where election results are constantly protested. Such a minister diminishes Estonia's economic and political credibility."
Lukas called on Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, leader of the Reform Party, to fire Savisaar from his coalition government, in which the Center Party leader holds the position of minister for economic affairs and communications.
The ordeal has displayed the widening cracks between the Reform Party and the Center Party, who together with the People's Union hold government in a loosely bonded coalition of unlikely partners.
Reform's secretary-general Kristen Michal also sought to distance his party from Savisaar's comments.
Michal labeled Savisaar's assertions as "absolutely groundless."
"Savisaar again shows mistrust of the Estonian people, the overwhelming majority of whom backed Ilves for president, and ahead of the [spring 2007 general] elections continues embittered attempts to create tension in society," Michal said.
Eiki Nestor, vice chairman of the Social Democrats went a step further, calling Savisaar an "embittered loser."
Ilves was a member of the Social Democrats until Sept. 24, when he resigned his party membership in line with constitutional requirements.
He will take office on Oct. 9, ahead of a visit to Estonia by U.S. President George W. Bush.