Former party leaders: We didn't pave the way for EKRE in government

Margus Tsahkna (left) and Jevgeni Ossinovski were the respective IRL and SDE leaders in November 2016, when they switched Jüri Ratas in as prime minister, replacing Taavi Rõivas and Reform.
Margus Tsahkna (left) and Jevgeni Ossinovski were the respective IRL and SDE leaders in November 2016, when they switched Jüri Ratas in as prime minister, replacing Taavi Rõivas and Reform. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

An autumn 2016 political coup which paved the way for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) to enter office was not the fault of the then-leaders of the two smaller coalition parties that facilitated the change in government, the two men say.

Margus Tsahkna was IRL – now Isamaa – leader four years ago, in November 2016, when his party, along with the Social Democratic Party (SDE), led by Jevgeni Ossinovski, ditched the larger coalition party, Reform, via vote of no-confidence in then-prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, and did a deal with new Center Party leader Jüri Ratas, who duly became prime minister before the month was over.

Ratas had been chosen Center leader four years ago to the day, on November 5 2016, ending the long-running Edgar Savisaar era, and the coup followed hot on its heels, leaving Reform in opposition ever since, despite having the largest number of Riigikogu seats during that entire time.

After the next general election in March last year, however, it was SDE's turn to go into opposition – though Isamaa stayed – when EKRE entered the coalition for the first time ever.

Both former leaders say they don't feel bad about this and don't accept culpability for the current coalition lineup.

"I don't have any guilt," Tsahkna told ERR senior political analyst Toomas Sildam.

Jevegeni Ossinovski feels the same way, in fact tracing EKRE's coalition genesis over 20 years back, and way before the party's 2012 foundation, to 1999 and then-prime minister Mart Laar's agricultural policies.

"Laar sowed the seeds of EKRE's rise to power in 1999, when he basically turned agriculture on its head," Ossinovski, still an SDE MP at the current Riigikogu, says.

EKRE doing what it does, ultimate responsibility lies with Ratas

Both men remain critical of Reform, but also now of Jüri Ratas, their former client as kingmakers.

"This is the source of the greatest disappointment for Jüri Ratas. He not only brought them into office - a legitimate step in a parliamentary democracy; one that I would not take, but it is still comprehensible," Ossinovski continued.

"However, Estonia's liberal values' space is being let down wholesale, as well as the country's international reputation...EKRE is doing what they had promised, so they cannot be held morally accountable," he added.

"But that the whole of Estonia's liberal value space is being let down, as well as Estonia's international reputation ... EKRE is doing what it has promised, they cannot be held morally accountable. The one who can be [held morally accountable] is still head of government and has the leverage to control things," Ossinovski continued.

Margus Tsahkna, who later left Isamaa and is now a member of the non-parliamentary Estonia 200 party, concurred.

"If you look at the coalition agreement, it is not all that scary," he said.

"However, if a party that received 17 percent of the vote dictates the policy of the entire government, the majority of the Riigikogu and thus the state as a whole...unless this is put straight, if the head of government doesn't establish himself, if he apologizes for things he shouldn't apologize for, if he doesn't let go of a minister who is unfit to do his or her job, if he lets it all drag on - look at what is happening. This is the responsibility Jüri Ratas currently bears," Tsahkna went on.

EKRE won 19 seats at the March 2019 election. The party had had seven seats at the previous Riigikogu.

Jevgeni Ossinovski and Margus Tsahkna were talking to Toomas Sildam, in an interview which will appear in its entirety (in Estonian) on ERR radio channel Vikerraadio at 2.05 p.m. on Friday.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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