Reform leader Kaja Kallas must make healing societal divides a priority, opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar said Saturday. Saar also warned Reform of risks in entering into office with Center, given the latter's litany of corruption accusations, charges and penalties over the past few years.
In comments ahead of an SDE extended board meeting, Saar said that the Reform-Center pairing undergoing coalition discussions could count on his and his party's full support.
Saar added that the events of the past days saw an ill-conceived plan for holding what he said was a socially divisive referendum on the definition of marriage shelved, following Jüri Ratas (Center) resignation early on Wednesday.
Saar: Marriage referendum will continue to cast a shadow
The referendum issue will, however, haunt society for a long-time to come, he added, though the ditching of the planned plebiscite means that a corner has been turned, not least since it means the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has found itself out-of-offfice.
Saar said: "The demise of the second Ratas government is also very good news. Extremists are finally out of the government, and this is a big thing. The dents that have been made in Estonian society and in allied relationships by the Ratas government during almost two years are unfortunately deep. Venom and mistrust have been sown systemically, and for a long time."
Saar's party has been in opposition since March 2019 and has often sided with Reform, particularly on social issues such as the marriage referendum. However, unlike Reform, SDE, which has 11 Riigikogu seats, will continue in opposition.
SDE leader: Reform will have to soften some of its economic policies, as safeguard against populism
Nonetheless the incoming coalition, once it is formed, should work to reunite society and reestablish fundamental values of a free society.
This should also mean that noone is economically left out, he said, as a safeguard against a resurgence of populism.
"This time around, the burden of the crisis must not be left on the shoulders of those who are weaker. That would be inhumane, and would cause inequality and injustice, which is where extremism has its roots."
This would include Reform having to soften some of its long-cherished taxation and financial policies, he said.
"We call on Kaja Kallas to refrain from a wish to pursue a policy characteristic of the Reform Party, which puts tax dogmas and macroeconomic indicators above the daily concerns and coping of real people."
"Kaja Kallas has no other option but to be a left-wing head of government. Otherwise inequality will only keep growing in society," Saar added.
Early indicators of the coalition discussions so far suggest that will happen, with Kallas and Mailis Reps, representing Center, declaring a "tax peace" on Friday.
In practice this would mean a meeting of minds between Reform's traditional flat-rate approach to income tax, and Center's progressive system policy.
Saar: Center has to clean up its act, Reform must watch over this
Saar also said that Center had its part to play in cleaning up its act, not least since it was a real estate alleged corruption scandal involving the Center Party which brought down Ratas, while leaving Center in office.
This would include Center shelving its plan to remove the body responsible for overseeing political party finances, the Party Financing Surveillance committee (ERJK).
Center tabled a bill to place the ERJK's responsibilities under the National Audit Office's (Riigikontroll) auspices last summer, but this ran into SDE filibustering as Saar, and former SDE MP Katri Raik, tabled tens of thousands of amendments.
The same tactic was used more recently by Reform and SDE to cripple the now-defunct marriage referendum bill's legislative process.
The Riigjogu needs to establish what kind of breaches have been committed in the allocation of crisis aid – it was a KredEx loan to the Porto Franco development in Tallinn which came under security service scrutiny, and subsequently Ratas' resignation – and for clearer limits to be put on pre-election campaigning.
Center also has a suspended sentence to its name over an earlier illegal donation, and had to return a €50,000 donation declared illicit, last summer.
Saar said that Reform was taking a risk going into office with Center, noting that EKRE were also caught up in the scandal, via a finance ministry adviser becoming one of the named suspects in the Porto Franco investigation, and ended up out-of-office.
Early on in the power vacuum sparked by Ratas' resignation, SDE MEP Sven Mikser said that Center continuing in office was a non-starter.
Ironing out these issues while Center is in office could make things complicated, if the latter held sway in key state institutions so tasked, he warned.
Editor: Andrew Whyte