Long-serving Reform Prime Minister Andrus Ansip once said, speaking about government in general terms, that when scandals break out, coalitions will falter. He was bang on point, writes senior ERR journalist Toomas Sildam, following the latest scandal to engulf the coalition government, which is unlikely to see the current prime minister putting aside differences, as he did in the last squabble, by sending a cake, or perhaps rather, a hamburger.
Wounds from the last, recent government crisis arising from hostile remarks by interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) towards sexual minorities had not yet healed when Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) had to set aside Father's Day editorials and heal a new scandal.
Remarks by ministers Mart and Martin Helme, in the context of the U.S. presidential election, were not serious and were even absurd; the pair must stop undermining Estonian-U.S. relations right away, was Ratas' unusually direct public assessment of his coalition partner.
What happened, then? Minister of Finance Martin Helme, and Minister of the Interior Mart Helme, issued an attack on the U.S. presidential election that returned President Joe Biden, on an EKRE radio channel.
There was no question whatsoever that the elections had been rigged, finance minister Helme said, noting that this rigging had been objectionable, blatant and on a mass scale, and that the new U.S. president had been elected by the deep state.
Minister of the Interior Helme said that the deep state's modus operandi is to instigate the existence of disruptive, corrupted and blackmailed neighbors in all quarters, to ensure its own freedom of action.
"Joe Biden and Hunter Biden are corrupt types," Helme said, adding that: "Naturally, Joe Biden no longer understands world affairs adequately in any sense."
Incidentally, and as an aside, Joe Biden will be 78 years old when he takes the oath of office of the President of the U.S.; current honorary EKRE chair Arnold Rüütel was the same age when he ran as President of Estonia for a second term in the fall of 2006, and he was a very sprightly gentleman at that time.
Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa), who has called the remarks by the Helmes attacking internal U.S. affairs a "dangerous game" for the security of us all, recalled the last joint statement by the Center, EKRE and Isamaa chairs, which ended the previous government crisis.
"For sure, this (the Helmes' rhetoric – ed.) is also in stark violation of principles of cooperation set out by the coalition leaders some days ago," Luik said.
On that day, on October 22, the leaders of the coalition parties agreed not to degrade any individual, not to attack anyone, to avoid offensive or menacing rhetoric and behavior. All this concerns, primarily, the attitude towards the people of Estonia, but it can also be applied more broadly.
And now? Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) poured vitriol on the Helmes' radio broadcast. "This is a crazy tale which does not represent the official position of the Estonian state for a single second or in any way."
President Kersti Kaljulaid called the words of the ministers of finance and the interior an attack on Estonia's security and announced that she would be convening the National Defense Council in the coming days to, discuss the scandal. Incidentally, this [council includes both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Interior.
This is however, no longer the type of scandal we saw last December, when interior minister Helme said of the Finnish government headed up by Sanna Marin was an example of how a salesgirl had become a prime minister, and how another street activist and uneducated person had also become a member of the government.
If members of the Estonian government call the results of the presidential elections of Estonia's most important ally, in terms of security policy, the U.S., a fraud and a corrupt type having been elected president, this will lead to a government crisis in Estonia.
The opposition - the Reform Party and the Social Democrats - will initiate a no-confidence motion in Minister of the Interior Helme at the Riigikogu in the new week, the initial factor being his anti-gay words in an interview a few weeks ago. It is now clear that the real focus of the no-confidence vote is on this "crazy talk" of interpreting the US election.
Not only that but also because during the Father's Day radio show, Minister of the Interior Helme called the EU a sadistic, masochistic self-proclaimed phenomenon, and talked about how the results of Estonian e-elections can be falsified and the votes of those who did not vote can be transformed into e-votes.
However, it is not clear how the Center Party and Isamaa will act.
An elastic band cannot stretch indefinitely, an influential politician from the Center Party admitted in a private conversation. He and many key figures in Isamaa do not understand why the leaders of EKRE are doing this.
Why are they attacking the U.S. after believing, in the run-up to the last parliamentary elections, that they would be able to get $1 billion in defense support from the U.S.? Why do they do harm to Estonian-U.S. relations; both Helmes, as former Ministry of Foreign Affairs people, should understand what such offensive terms mean – are these not written down and remembered, even if Estonia does not have its nose openly rubbed in them?
In what way would a minister with the surname Helme go to Washington next spring to discuss the fight against money laundering, with a new U.S. colleague, for example? These are questions that the Helmes' colleagues in the government cannot answer.
"They take Donald Trump's election defeat personally; Trump has set an example for them, they have defined themselves and their political activities via Trump and Trumpsim," one coalition politician suggested.
If, this time, among EKRE's government partners, there are those who think that Jüri Ratas' "other government" has run its course because EKRE leaders will now not be eligible for government, then the Riigikogu will see coalition MPs voting in favor of the no-confidence motion. This means the fall of the government and new coalition talks, reportedly between the Center Party and the Reform Party, as far as we know.
Of course, Minister of the Interior Helme himself may resign, to take pressure off the scandal. However, this likelihood seems dubious. Prime Minister Ratas may also ask the president to dismiss the minister, which presupposes that Ratas' decision is to terminate things with this government.
Finally, of course, the prime minister can simply send a burger or muffin as a gift to the finance and interior ministers (referring to an incident at the end of last month's rift, when Ratas sent a cake to Martin Helme as EKRE leader, and also Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder – ed.).
However, it seems that this time, these types of gestures will not be coming.
Editor: Andrew Whyte