A vote of no-confidence in defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) has failed to pass at the Riigikogu, 57 against versus 42 in favor, meaning the motion picked up support from MPs outside Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the two opposition parties who tabled the motion.
The motion was only tabled Tuesday morning, in the wake of planned defense spend cuts unveiled in the Reform/Center coalition's state budget strategy last month, cuts which representatives of the two parties say undermine the country's security.
The vote followed several hours' debating and questioning of Kalle Laanet at the Riigikogu (government ministers do not sit in the chamber).
While Isamaa had proposed the motion, the party lacks a sufficient number of seats to obtain a quorum to allow the motion to go ahead in the first place, but met this requirement once EKRE signed up.
MPs from the other opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDE), did not put their names to the motion.
Since EKRE and Isamaa together have 31 MPs, assuming they all voted in favor of the motion, it means 11 other MPs also expressed a lack of confidence in Laanet, however.
Helir-Valdor Seeder, leader of Isamaa, who first proposed the motion but required support of another party to reach a quorum, said: "The decision to undermine the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), the Defense League (Kaitseliit) and important national symbols via cuts is unacceptable."
The proposed cuts when first announced brought the EDF's orchestra into the spotlight, with one suggested austerity area – though not by Laanet – being its disbanding.
"These steps show that Kalle Laanet does not understand his role as Minister of Defense, in ensuring Estonia's security, and is not aware of Estonia's difficult geopolitical situation," Seeder, whose party held the defense ministry post through Jüri Luik until January, went on.
EKRE chair Martin Helme concurred.
"He (i.e. Laanet – ed.) does not understand his field and does not seem to have any interest in the development of national defense. Repeatedly misleading the Riigikogu and the public shows that he either does not understand what is happening in his field or lies about it. In either case, he must not continue as a minister," Helme said.
The government says it plans to reduced defense spend by €114 million in the coming years, in comparison with the in-place defense development plan and defense investment program. Around 270 defense jobs would be lost in the proposed cuts.
The motion of no-confidence, the first to be proposed on a minister from the current government since it entered office in late January, reads: "The signatories express no confidence in Kalle Laanet, who, as Minister of Defense, has been misleading in damaging Estonia's national defense, weakened Estonia's security and the will of the public to defend, the EDF, the Defense League, and important national symbols."
The motion is signed by all 19 EKRE MPs and all 10 Isamaa MPs.
In order to pass and assuming the EKRE and Isamaa MPs voted for the motion, a further 22 MPs from Center or even SDE or Reform itself would need to vote in its favor, at the 101-seat Riigikogu.
Mart Võrklaev, chairman of the Reform Party Riigikogu group, told ERR Tuesday morning that the government was discussing the issue, with the plan of putting it to the vote same-day, i.e. Tuesday, which indeed happened.
This article was updated to include comments from Mart Võrklaev, and to include information on the outcome of the vote.
Editor: Andrew Whyte