Reform Party, Center Party to start coalition negotiations ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

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Reform and Center parties promotional balloons.
Reform and Center parties promotional balloons. Source: ERR

The two largest political parties in terms of Riigikogu representation, the Reform Party and the Center Party are to start coalition negotiations, both parties say.

Reform decided Thursday to commence talks with Center, with party leader Kaja Kallas and MPs Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Mart Võrklaev and Gerrit Mäesalu making up the negotiation delegation.

Kallas said: "The conversations held yesterday led to an understanding that the Reform Party and the Center Party could be able to form a functional government. I am very pleased that the two largest parties in the Riigikogu have decided to form the government."

"The new government is to take office at a very difficult time. We are in the middle of a coronavirus crisis and we need to move forward fast in order to safeguard the lives and health of Estonian people while also keeping our economy going. Estonia cannot afford a political deadlock right now. I feel it is my political responsibility that the recent social tension should be mitigated and we should concentrate on what's important for Estonia," she added.

Center MPs had already announced they were going to talk to Reform.

"Board members of the Center Party and its Riigikogu faction met this evening in support of starting informal coalition negotiations with the Reform Party, following thorough discussions," Center wrote on its official social media page late on Wednesday night, adding that former education secretary Mailis Reps, and social affairs minister Tanel Kiik will be lead the party in the talks.

On Wednesday, Reps both spoke out in support of forming a coalition with Reform, the larger of the two opposition parties, and also Isamaa, which had already been in the coalition, and ruled out continued cooperation with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

Center had been in office with EKRE and Isamaa until Jüri Ratas (Center) resigned as prime minister early morning Wednesday following a security services investigation into a major loan by state credit agency KredEx to a Tallinn real estate development with links to the Center Party.

While Center has also been declared a suspect in the investigation, Center's leadership has said the party would like to remain in office, while EKRE's has virtually conceded that it will be in opposition.

Center MP Andrei Korobeinik has stated on his social media account that a new Reform and Center coalition : "Has been born," while the party's sole MEP, Yana Toom, also announced that the decision had been made.

Toom wrote on her social media account, in Russian, that: "In spite of the nervousness of the recent days, we have decided to attempt building a coalition with the Reform Party, which I hope works out."

Toom also said that the two parties, in the past bitter rivals – a Reform-Center alliance after the March 2019 general election was seen as unthinkable by many political commentators – would be burying the hatchet.

"I know that many perceived the phrase ′party of reforms', especially written in Cyrillic [alphabet], as a curse, but the party of [former prime minister Andrus] Ansip party and [Kaja] Kallas' party are not the same thing," Toom continued. There have been several political parties in Russia with "reform" in their name, as far back as at least the aftermath of the 1905 abortive revolution.

President Kersti Kaljulaid has asked Reform's leader, Kaja Kallas, to form a new coalition.

Ratas continues as caretaker prime minister

Jüri Ratas (Center) will continue as caretaker prime minister while Reform and Center conduct their negotiations.

Reform decided Thursday to commence talks with Center, with party leader Kaja Kallas and MPs Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Mart Võrklaev and Gerrit Mäesalu making up the negotiation delegation.

The prime ministerial candidate, i.e. Kaja Kallas, within fourteen days of receiving the instruction to form the new government, presents a report to the Riigikogu on their coalition proposal, after , which is followed by debate and voting. This will actually be the second time Kaja Kallas has gone through this process; in April 2019, following the general election the previous month, she presented a minority coalition of Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), but this was voted down by the chamber.

If Kallas' coalition lineup passes the Rigiikogu vote this time around – which if all Center and Reform MPs vote in its favor, it will do – she would then have seven days to present the provisional cabinet to the president. The latter then has three days to appoint this cabinet to office, followed by swearing-in before the Riigikogu.

In other words, Kallas' coalition will enter office a maximum of 24 days after the time of writing, or the end of the first week in February, assuming it passes at the Riigikogu.

With the considerations of the coronavirus pandemic in mind, this time-frame may be substantially shorter. Failure to reach an agreement on a coalition by that time could prompt extraordinary elections. The next general election is scheduled for 2023.

This article was updated to include Reform's confirmation that they were entering negotiations with Center, and the time-frame between the president formally inviting Kaja Kallas to become prime minister and the deadline by which a new coalition has to be installed.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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