REGIME CHANGE: Abdul Turay is one of the new faces in Tallinn City Council
TALLINN - Members of Estonia’s government have accused neighboring Russia of interfering in local politics after a candidate for mayor of Tallinn was placed on Interpol’s wanted list on the eve of municipal elections that were held on Oct. 20, reports Bloomberg.
Eerik-Niiles Kross, 46, of the junior coalition party Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit, is sought by Russia on charges of organizing piracy, according to Interpol’s Web site. Authorities in Estonia plan to file a protest with Interpol on the grounds that Russia’s actions are politically motivated, Interior Minister Ken-Marti Vaher, also of Isamaa, told Estonian public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhaeaeling Oct. 19. Kross failed to unseat incumbent Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar.
Disputes over the Baltic country’s treatment of its Russian-speaking minority have strained ties with Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Relations improved this year after hitting a low in 2007 over the relocation of a Soviet statue in Tallinn. Russian President Vladimir Putin this month approved a draft border treaty with Estonia.
Relations still tense
“Russia has interfered with elections in Tallinn,” Isamaa Chairman and Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in an e-mailed statement Oct. 19 in connection with Kross’ political challenge to Savisaar.
“Earlier they wanted to get back at Kross for his work in defending Georgia’s independence. Now they want to affect tomorrow’s vote so that Savisaar stays in power.”
Kross, a former diplomat and security official, advised Georgian authorities during and after that country’s five-day war with Russia in 2008. Former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, a critic of Putin, this month visited Tallinn to back Kross’ campaign, according to a video interview on the Postimees newspaper’s Web site on Oct. 4.
Russia alleges Kross had a role in the hijacking of the freighter Arctic Sea in July 2009. Russia attempted to add Kross to Interpol’s wanted list last year in connection with the case, Reijo Valgjarv, an official with the Estonian central criminal police and an Interpol representative in the country, told the public broadcaster Oct. 19.
Russia’s request for action on Kross was authorized by an Interpol commission that concluded Russia wasn’t politically motivated, he said.
“This is a provocation by Russia’s special services,” Kross said on Oct. 19 in e-mailed comments forwarded by Isamaa’s press office.
Estonian prosecutors, which have conducted their own investigation into the Arctic Sea case, have no grounds to suspect Kross in crimes alleged by Russia, chief state prosecutor Heili Sepp told the public broadcaster Oct. 19. Russian authorities haven’t cooperated fully to establish all facts in the case, she added.
Savisaar is mainly backed by local Russian speakers. His Center Party in 2004 signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party. Before general elections in 2011, authorities said the Center Party posed a security risk to Estonia by seeking financing from a potential Russian backer.
The Center Party has had the majority in the Tallinn municipal council since 2005.
Voters have their say
Election results for the Oct. 20 vote have returned the Center Party as victors, winning the local municipality elections in Estonia with a result equal to the previous local municipality elections in 2009, with a convincing victory also in the capital Tallinn.
According to the National Elections Committee homepage, the Center Party scored 199,888 votes or 31.9 percent of all votes cast in all of Estonia. In the capital, its score was 115,074 votes or 53.65 percent of all votes cast, giving it 46 seats in the city council. In 2009, Center Party’s pan-Estonia result was 31.5 percent and Tallinn, 53.57 percent.
Across Estonia, Pro Patria and Res Publica Party took the second-biggest number of votes, 107,772, or 17.2 percent of all, followed by Reform Party’s 85,805 votes or 13.7 percent and Social Democratic Party’s 78,494 votes or 12.5 percent.
In Tallinn, Pro Patria and Res Publica Party scored 41,900 votes or 19.17 percent of all, followed by Reform Party’s 23,163 votes or 10.59 percent and Social Democratic Party’s 21,694 votes or 9.92 percent. That would give Pro Patria and Res Publica Party 16 seats in the city council, Reform Party 9 seats and Social Democratic Party 8 seats. Different from many other places in Estonia, local elections unions didn’t cross the election threshold in the city and were thus left out of the city council.
The voting activity was clearly below that in 2009, with 57.68 percent of voters with voting rights participating while in 2009, the turnout rate was a record 60.6 percent. The turnout in Tallinn was nearly 63.2 percent, down from 65.7 percent in 2009.
The Reform Party, Center Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) reached an agreement in Estonia’s second largest city Tartu on Oct. 27 to form the new city coalition: the Reform Party keeps the post of mayor while the city council chairman post goes to the Center Party.
“Based on today’s agreement we can face the next four years with a good and firm feeling. We found major unanimity with the Center Party and Social Democrats and I am certain that all residents of Tartu will benefit from the broad-based coalition that will be formed. Our common vision of Tartu as a city with the best living environment creates prerequisites for long-term stable cooperation,” said Tartu Mayor Urmas Kruuse.
In Tartu, the local municipality elections were won by the Reform Party (15 seats in the city council), followed by Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (11), Center Party (9), SDP (8), election unions Patriotic Citizen of Tartu (3) and Vabakund (3).
Over the past weekend, coalition agreements were signed also in Rakvere, northeast Estonia, and Jogeva, central Estonia. In Rakvere the coalition agreement was signed by PRU, Reform Party and SDP. Rakvere’s candidate mayor is Mihkel Juhkami (PRU) and council chairman candidate Marko Torm (Reform Party).
In Jogeva, the Center Party and Reform Party formed a coalition and ousted PRU that held the mayor’s post since January. The future mayor of Jogeva is Aare Olgo (Center Party).
Coalition agreements have been concluded in Viljandi, between PRU and SDP, with PRU getting the post of the mayor and in Voru, where a coalition agreement was signed between SDP, Center Party and election union Voru Deserves Ability, with SDP member Anti Allas becoming the mayor.
In Tallinn and in northeast Estonia’s border town Narva, the Center Party won the elections and has said it will form the city government on its own.