The council shake-up
Local politics dominated the headlines this past week in Estonia, as both the city councils of Pärnu and Tallinn faced shake-ups in their ruling coalitions' structures. The events in both cities have national implications, as they show minor signs of disenchantment within the national ruling coalition, comprised of the Pro Patria Union (of Prime Minister Mart Laar), the Reform Party (of Finance Minister Siim Kallas) and Mõõdukad (loosely translated as "Moderates," of coalition council chairman Andres Tarand).
Late last week, the local government of Pärnu resigned, pre-empting a no-confidence motion that would have easily succeeded. The former ruling coalition was led by the Pro Patria Union and commanded a safe majority in the 33-seat council. However, all of the coalition partners of the Pro Patria Union voiced support for the no-confidence motion, and a new coalition was forged without the Pro Patria Union.
The Reform Party's Einar Kelder received the mayoral position despite having one less seat in the council than the vehement opposition group, the Centre Party, giving rise to rumours of intrigue and backroom dealing between the Centre Party and Reform Party, which some believe is aimed at damaging the link between the Reform Party and the Pro Patria Union as a precursor to a shift in power nationally.
Later that week, three no-confidence motions were filed in the Tallinn City Council against Mayor Jüri Mõis (Pro Patria Union), Council Chairman Rein Voog (Reform Party) and Deputy Chairman Peeter Lepp (Coalition Party). Again the opposition, led by the Centre Party, sponsored the no-confidence motions against Mõis and Voog, gaining the support of several members of the ruling coalition, from the Russian-speaking People's Trust coalition and even one member of the Pro Patria Union. The Pro Patria Union, in turn, filed the motion against Lepp, who has been in the news for weeks over a dodgy apartment privatisation scandal. Strangely enough, all three motions appear to have enough votes to succeed. The motions will be considered on 2 November.
Despite public arguments over the 2001 budget, political forces in the national coalition refused to believe the Pärnu and Tallinn council problems would affect their co-operation at the national level. Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar is well-known both for his intrigue and keen ability to exacerbate tensions. This could be the foreshadowing of an attempt to claim power nationally. If Savisaar can lure the Reform Party to his side with the promise of the premiership, it would spell doom for the ruling coalition and serious political problems for Estonia for a long time to come.
Another acquittal for Kallas
Finance Minister Siim Kallas was acquitted once again by a lower Tallinn court on charges he provided false data in a controversial case while he served as central bank president. Cases against Kallas in the so-called "Ten Million Dollar" scandal have been ongoing for many years, probing the activities of Kallas in a dodgy deal involving the central bank, which lost the aforementioned money.
Kallas was acquitted on all charges on every appeal, until the case reached the Supreme Court last year. The top court of the land upheld all the acquittals except for one—the count on providing false information—and sent the charge back to the lower courts.
Prosecutors had asked for only a financial punishment for Kallas, though a conviction would have easily forced his resignation from his finance minister post. For about a year, the opposition refused to acknowledge the minister in the Riigikogu, saying an indicted suspect should not serve as a cabinet minister.
Prosecutors have said they will appeal the verdict to an appellate court, and it could be next year before the entire appellate process is exhausted. Kallas has always maintained his innocence.
A decision by the governing council for the National Library has infuriated many in Tallinn, as they have banned those under 16 from using the National Library. The decision was financially motivated, as officials say banning children from the library would cut down on costs for security, maintenance and the replacement of damaged books. Some argued this would force other libraries to remain open, as a way to fight government attempts to shut down smaller libraries around town.
The decision has been condemned by government members and other cultural, educational and political groups. However, the move is being supported by librarians from the Nordic countries, who have similar rules implemented.
And in Other News...
- Nurses staged a one-hour warning strike to protest low wages and warned that further labour disruption is possible. Nurses in Estonia commonly make less than the national average wage.
- Ambassador Riina Kionka presented her credentials to German President Johannes Rau. Kionka has been a top official at the foreign ministry for some time and worked at Radio Free Europe when it was based in Munich. She is also a German speaker.
- Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves visited Norway to discuss bilateral co-operation, especially in the energy sphere.
- The little adopted girl, who was earlier refused automatic citizenship because her birth parents were not citizens, was finally made a citizen by birth. The earlier decision by the Citizenship and Migration Department had angered many in politics and social welfare services, pushing the government into acting on the adopted girl's behalf. The adopting parents are Estonian citizens.
- Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus met in Riga with his counterparts, Mareks Segliņš of Latvia, Česlovas Blažys of Lithuania and Vladimir Rushailo of Russia, to discuss further co-operation among the four countries in fighting crime and cross-border illegal activities and to co-ordinate joint training and exchange programmes.
- Colonel Harry Hein has officially been named the director of the Border Guards by Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus. Hein is participating in a training course in Hungary until December.
As of 20 October 2000
|1 US dollar||18.00|
|1 British pound||26.03|
|1 German mark||8|
Mel Huang, 20 October 2000
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