Monday saw the fourth anniversary of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) entering office, following a coup by leaders of the two junior coalition, Isamaa (then IRL) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) to exchange the Reform Party, and with it Taavi Rõivas as premier, for the Center Party and Ratas. The leading dailies at the time noted the continuity in the new cabinet as much as the change that Center brought, also pondering whether Center had changed itself sufficiently to be a party of national government.
EPL: The second cabinet is half of the first one
Daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) at the time stressed continuity in Ratas' first cabinet comprising Center, IRL/Isamaa and SDE compared with its predecessor, one which meant there had not been any major ideological changes as predicted by the Reform Party when they were ousted.
At the same time, EPL pointed out that, not having been in office before, Center's ministers were inexperienced, though would be need to be tested in practice to see how this panned out.
"Neither the suitability of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas nor the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Samson can raise major questions at this stage – the competence of party leaders in the ministerial office must inevitably be tested," EPL wrote at the time, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
"Unlike the outgoing Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (Reform), Repinski has experience as a rural entrepreneur (quite a lot of experience, as it turned out – two scandals shortly after taking up the post forced him to resign after less than two weeks as minister – ed.), and there is no reason to immediately say of Mihhail Korb (minister of public administration in Ratas' first cabinet, now Center's Secretary General – ed.) that he will be a worse minister than [predecessor] Arto Aas (Reform)."
Korb had to step down after a few months in office after commenting on high level defense matters despite it not being in his remit (as noted he was minister of public administration) and telling a group of elderly war veterans that Estonia should not be in NATO.
EPL did however find that Ratas would be too managerial rather than taking responsibility, and would be not helped by tense relationsa between the three coalition parties.
Postimees: Center got a good deal
Daily Postimees found that Center had done well out of the new set-up and now had to earn its keep with the populace (as noted the party did not enter office via a general election but after a vote of no-confidence in Taavi Rõivas – ed.).
There were still questions hanging over the new lineup's values however, the paper found, though again the continuity issue was noted.
Postimees wrote: "The distribution of portfolios gives a signal both to Estonia and abroad that our current directions in foreign and security policy will be maintained, and that the forthcoming presidency of the European Union will be a success. /.../ It is also positive that some ministers will continue in their current positions."
The Center Party, led by Jüri Ratas, must now show that it is really ready to be a prime ministerial party in a democratic state governed by the rule of law, the paper also found.
"Until recently, so many party members have been on the same siade as the previous chairman, Edgar Savisaar, when it comes to the rule of law," the paper wrote. Edgar Savisaar, a former long-term mayor of Tallinn, was co-founder of Center.
"A lot has even been said about the co-operation agreement with [Vladimir Putin's party] United Russia (an agreement which remains in place – ed.)."
Postimees also found that the Reform Party should become the driving force of the opposition, at that time consisting of three parties: Reform, EKRE and the Free Party.
"However, for the Reform Party to be able to live in the role of opposition leader, changes must be made in the party's organization," the paper found.
Kaja Kallas was elected Reform leader in April 2018. While the party won the largest number of seats (34) of any single party in the March 2019 elections, it found itself locked out of coalition negotiations as Center, EKRE and Isamaa went off by themselves, and SDE, with 10 seats, was not enough to form a 51-Riigikogu-seat-or-more coalition at the 101-seat chamber.
Õhtuleht: Will the Center Party free itself of its baggage?
Evening paper Õhtuleht, whose recent articles on education minister Mailis Reps saw the latter having to resign from her post, said that earlier that Center had not been seen by other parties to have changed, with Savisaar casting a long shadow – in fact Mailis Reps doubled down on the commitment United Russia deal, Õhtuleht said.
Õhtuleht felt that Center – which has seen an ongoing, hugely complex corruption case, or cases, linking it to land swaps, illegal donations and grafting and which Edgar Savisaar himself has been freed from on health grounds – could start with rehabilitating those in the party who had previously received injunctions.
Ratas and the Center/IRL/SDE lineup lasted, albeit with less than 51 seats at the Rigiikogu towards the end, to the March 2019 general election, after which SDE ended up in opposition and EKRE, whose number of seats had nearly tripled to 19, in office. IRL, now Isamaa, remained in office. While pundits saw the current lineup as doomed, it has been in office over 18 months now, though seen several ministerial resignations, including three in the month of November.
The next general election is in 2023. Autumn 2021 sees local government elections nationwide.
Editor: Andrew Whyte