Small parties may face hard times in October's local elections if a proposed ban on party unions is approved.
Parliament last week adopted amendments to the law on local elections that would forbid groups of individual candidates joining forces and running without being represented by a party. The amendments have been sent to President Arnold Ruutel for approval.
Independent candidates will still be permitted to run for election, but they will not be able to join together on a single list like party-affiliated candidates do.
Some opposition MPs say the amendments are unconstitutional.
Tiit Toomsalu, chairman of the Estonian Social Democratic Labor Party, the lead party in Parliament fighting the changes, says local governments must be allowed to choose their own election formats. He says his arguments are backed by the European Charter of Local Government, which Estonia has joined.
In addition, Toomsalu said that the party system is not developed enough to ban electoral unions.
"Party identity is not yet that strong here and people often prefer to choose from concrete (individual) candidates," said Toomsalu.
Toomsalu said he sent a letter to Ruutel last week asking him to veto the amendments. The president's decision is due April 17.
Other parties opposing the amendments include the Democratic Party, the Christian People's Party, the Russian Party in Estonia and the Russian Unity Party.
Even the Moderates, one of the largest parties in the country, consider a ban on electoral unions a premature step.
The Moderates presented a compromise, but it did not find support in Parliament.
"The electoral unions could carry on in smaller county districts with more than 5,000 residents," said Olari Koppel, a spokesman for the Moderates.
The average population of most county districts is about 1,500 people. Only 40 county districts have over 5,000 residents. A party in Estonia must have at least 1,000 members.
But possibly a way around the law has already been found.
Mihkel Tiks, a local government officeholder in Loksa, says he will create the Local Elections Party, an alternative political union conceived especially for the October elections, if the president approves the amendments.
Tiks and colleague Oleg Gogin said in a written statement released on April 7 that the amendments were simply an attempt by large parties to nudge competitors out of local elections.