Opinion: Ratas resigned but a month ago, yet time hardly on Kallas' side

Jüri Ratas officially hands over to Kaja Kallas as prime minister. Source: Raul Mee

It is only a month since Jüri Ratas announced his resignation as prime minister, and with it the end of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, and the start of the process for forming a new government, ERR senior journalist Toomas Sildam writes. However, time is not on Kallas' side, Sildam continues, with the next parliamentary elections due in two years' time and the pandemic ongoing, even as Kallas may have thought from the outset that her way of doing things would be very different from her predecessor's.

Kallas and the Reform Party already knew about the investigations into the Center Party, relating to a development in central Tallinn, on January 13 – the day Jüri Ratas (Center) resgined as prime minister, Sildam writes.

Why enter office with Center then? Sildam notes that Kallas herself had no real relations with Isamaa's leader Helir-Valdor Seeder, meaning a quick option – one which provided a majority at the Riigikogu – was to enter office with Center alone.

Meanwhile, non-parliamentary party Eesti 200 has been trying to force the discussion at the Riigikogu of a second term for President Kersti Kaljulaid at a time when parties do not want to have that discussion yet, Sildam writes.

Merkel, Macron overtures encouraging

As to the positive things, former central bank governor Ardo Hansson agreeing to join Kallas' team as economic adviser was somewhat of a coup, while recent virtual meetings with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron – both of whom invited Kallas to visit their respective capitals even though they will already see her via Council of the EU meetings – are also good signs, Sildam continues.

The head of government's task is, after all, to build foreign and security policy bridges between Estonia and the outside world, in conjunction with the president, foreign minister and Riigikogu speaker.

The head of government's task is, after all, to build foreign and security policy bridges between Estonia and the outside world, in conjunction with the president, foreign minister and Riigikogu speaker.

Kallas inherits coronavirus challenges

The achilles heel remains the pandemic, with decisions on when and where to relax or turn the heat up on restrictions, how to conduct school classes, prioritizing vaccinations, the position of the government's under-fire advisory council on COVID-19, and even the issue of coronavirus fatigue all requiring attention.

Beyond the virus, the use and status of EU funds, stimulating the economy, restoring hope to Ida-Viru County after the so-called green revolution puts an end to oil shale mining and burning there, as well as a dispute over financing a planned central Tallinn hospital are all challenges the new prime minster must face.

Continued corruption allegations against Center – cases relating to alleged illicit party donations, the party's former secretary general and his connection with the property development scandal noted above, as well as a criminal investigation into former education minister Mailis Reps are other things which Kallas has had to face and which can create mutual caution and desire to remain vigilant, if not out-and-out mistrust, Sildam argues.

EKRE biding its time

This could all provide ammunition for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), Sildam continues, which found itself out-of-office after the Center-focused scandal (though a key adviser to former finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) was one of those detained following the investigation – ed.). EKRE's leadership indeed called for a show of civil resistance to the new coalition at a meeting Saturday, but on the whole, restraint has predominated, ahead of the local elections later this year and the 2023 general election, Sildam writes.

As things stand EKRE does not want to alienate itself too much in opposition, lest it end up a leper so far as potential coalition partnerships go – though this may still be tempered if a potential party, reported in the media as aimed at preserving indigenous Estonians rights and to be called PERE (link in Estonian), materializes, as it would have plenty of cross-over with EKRE in terms of support, Sildam continues.

While EKRE, Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) know they cannot choose the next president alone, the two coalition parties, Reform and Center, have not reached consensus on this (Jüri Ratas recently said the president should be elected at the Riigikogu more quickly, rather than via the lengthier rounds required in 2016 when Kersti Kaljulaid ascended to the post – ed.), though if and how they will do so has not been discussed yet.

Finally, Eesti 200 may have seen its function fulfilled. The party overtook EKRE in support polls at the end of last year/beginning of this year, but with EKRE now in opposition, a key Eesti 200 rallying point is now no longer present (EKRE retook third place in most opinion polls recently – ed.), leaving something of a void needing filled for the party to retain support.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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