TALLINN - With the Center Party relegated to the opposition benches, its leader Edgar Savisaar appears eager to find a key position to occupy his time. He is now set to return to the post of mayor of Tallinn, a role he held from 2001 until 2004. The Center Party holds outright power in the Tallinn City Council, and will install Savisaar as mayor through a simple vote at its April 5 meeting.
The current mayor Juri Ratas ran as a candidate in the recent parliamentary elections and collected a large number of votes.
Savisaar, meanwhile, is unlikely to be content serving as leader of the opposition party in parliament, and would rather wield power in City Hall, which controls development within the capital.
On March 23 Ratas announced he would follow his party orders and take his seat in Parliament to clear the way for Savisaar's return.
Ratas said he would prefer to stay on as mayor, but had the interests of his party in mind.
"It is one thing what a person sees inside himself and another thing what the party sees. The party can see a more integral picture and we also have to bear in mind that there will be local elections in two and a half years," Ratas told BNS.
Savisaar said he was merely keeping a promise he made to the people of Tallinn before the 2005 local elections. He will remain as chairman of the party.
"I promised to become mayor but warned that it would take time," he was quoted by BNS as saying. "I will now keep my earlier promise but I also intend to keep my promise and take part in leading the Estonian state. I believe that after some time, and perhaps sooner than anyone can presume, the Center Party will again be in the government and the chairman of the party will not be left aside."
Toomas Toniste, leader of the city council's branch of opposition party IRL, said the switch showed Ratas was simply warming Savisaar's chair.
"All the decisions were coming not from the city government but from Center Party headquarters. Nobody asked Ratas what he thought," Toniste said.
"The mayor of Tallinn must not be a political position. In a democratic country, it is not good when such an important position can be changed because somebody higher wants the job."
The head of the Social Democrats in Tallinn, Jaak Juske, also reacted cynically.
He told BNS that it was a "public secret" that Savisaar had never stopped ruling Tallinn, but used Ratas as a "puppet mayor who obediently carried out orders issued from (Savisaar's) office."
Heiki Sibul, head of the National Electoral Committee, said it was legal for such a switch to occur without a local election. The mayor is not a directly-elected position, but is chosen by a vote of the council, Sibul said.
Rainer Kattel, professor of public administration at Tallinn Technical University, said the transition would hardly make a difference to the city.
"He was a shadow mayor anyway, the main decisions came from him. This is how the Center Party works, 's it has very strong discipline," Kattel said.
Meanwhile Reform, IRL and the Social Democrats edged closer to signing a coalition agreement that would deliver 66 seats in the nation's 101-seat Parliament.
Reform stood likely to win the lion's share of ministries, including the Foreign Ministry, which IRL leader Mart Laar sought to wrest from the hands of Reform's Urmas Paet.
The squabble over the Foreign Ministry brought negotiations to a halt, but Laar later ceded the post.
It was speculated that Laar, a former prime minister, would not take a seat in Cabinet at all, but would lead his party without holding a ministry.
It is expected that a new government could be announced as early as March 28.