Shake-up may destroy government

  • 2001-12-13
  • Aleksei Gunter, TALLINN
The liberal Reform Party announced on Dec. 5 that it was impossible to carry on working with its present coalition partners in Tallinn City Council citing reasons of unprofessionalism. It immediately signed a cooperation agreement with the large left-wing opposition Center Party to form a new power bloc - a development that could bring down the national government, which consists of the same three-party coalition as the City Council.

A source from the Reform Party, which until last week shared power with the Pro Patria Union and the Moderates, said there was a great probability of Edgar Savisaar, the Center Party's populist leader, becoming the next mayor of Tallinn as soon as a no-confidence vote could take place against current Mayor Tonis Palts of Pro Patria.

Condemnation from the Reform Party's former coalition partners was swift. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, chairman of the Moderates and Estonia's foreign affairs minister, warned in the Eesti Paevaleht daily that a power shift in the capital may lead to the collapse of the ruling national coalition.

He doubted the national government could survive the blow of the Reformists leaving the Tallinn coalition, adding that mutual trust has been damaged.

Ilves also accused the Reform Party of failing to inform its coalition partners about its departure before the media broadcast it.

On Dec. 11, a message bearing the signatures of Pro Patria Union's chairman, Prime Minister Mart Laar, and Moderates' Chairman Eiki Nestor, demanded proof of Reform's allegiance in the national government.

"The Moderates and the Pro Patria Union propose that the Reform Party prove by deed that it is ready to continue as a reliable partner in the ruling coalition," the message read.

Siim Kallas, chairman of the Reform Party, tried to play down the wider significance of his party's decision.

He claimed the coalition should continue in the national government at least until the next general election due to take place on 2 March, 2003.

"It's an overreaction," was how he responded to claims by Moderate and Pro Patria politicians that the Tallinn power scandal might lead to the collapse of the ruling coalition in the national government.

The Center Party stated in a press release on Dec. 10 it was ready for extraordinary municipal elections, which, it says, will help ease the tension and obtain, undoubtedly, even greater public support.

In November, the Center Party maintained its reputation as most popular party, with 21 percent support, according to a poll by the Emor research agency. The Reform Party and the People's Union came second and third.

Savisaar told reporters as the cooperation accord for a new ruling alliance in Tallinn was being signed that he was open for any position the new coalition would offer him, including that of mayor.

All will be decided on Dec. 13, at the next regular Thursday session of the City Council, when changes in the city administration will come up for consideration.

This is when the new power bloc will initiate the no-confidence motion against Palts, according to Toivo Tootsen, head of the Center Party's faction in the council.

Tootsen also said some independent deputies are ready to cooperate with the new coalition. This is crucial to how the vote swings on Dec. 13.

There are 10 independent deputies, all of whom are from parties dominated by ethnic Russian speakers. These councilors, who are divided into two factions, had unpublished interparty agreements with the former ruling coalition, which explains why votes on a great deal of the City Council's business succeeded in the past.

How the independents decide where their allegiances stand now will depend on what the Reform and Center parties can offer them.

To carry out the no-confidence motion successfully, the Reform and Center parties need 33 votes - more than 50 percent of the 64-member council. The Center Party and the Reform Party have 24 and 10 seats respectively, so they should succeed, but since some Reformists may not agree with such a change a helping hand from some independents may be needed.

Pro Patria has 14 seats, the Moderates four. There are also two councilors who hail from the Coalition Party, which disbanded a few months ago.

Mart Meri, head of the Tallinn division of the Moderates and son of former President Lennart Meri, said there were more important things to worry about than changing the power bloc nationwide.

"The Reform Party's withdrawal from the old coalition has suspended the approval of Tallinn's budget for next year by several months, hampering major investments in school renovation, road construction and sewage network development," he said.

The Reform Party has said that a controversial loan it is seeking of 1.5 billion kroons ($88 million) to fund the 2002 budget will be a serious problem for the city. It suggested a far smaller alternative loan plan of 400 million kroons.

The agreement signed between the Center Party and the Reform Party on Dec. 7 also suggested cutting unnecessary bureaucracy in the City Council by reducing the number of vice chairmen from four to two.

A number of economic changes are also on the cards, such as additional funding for public transport and a one-time allowance of 5,000 kroons for a family having a third child.

Jaak Juske, an adviser to the Moderates' faction of the City Council, said on Dec. 11 that a no-confidence motion against the Tallinn mayor would delay the work of the city administration by several months because the Reform Party and the Center Party would not be able to form a stable majority coalition.