'Rahva teenrid': Anneli Ott, Tanel Kiik may have to step down from office

'Rahva teenrid' panel for Saturday, July 31 - Evelyn Kaldoja, Mirko Ojakivi and Krister Paris.
'Rahva teenrid' panel for Saturday, July 31 - Evelyn Kaldoja, Mirko Ojakivi and Krister Paris. Source: ERR

Knives were out for two government ministers on Saturday's edition of Vikerraadio politics discussion show 'Rahva teenrid', hosted by Mirko Ojakivi, Evelyn Kaldoja and Krister Paris.

The discussion followed recent reports of culture minister Anneli Ott's (Center) skepticism over coronavirus vaccines, as well as Tanel Kiik's stance of the workings of the vaccination program, one which brought him into virtual conflict with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) this week.

ERR's Mirko Ojakivi said that the position of health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) is particularly strong, given his close ties with party leader and Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas, and status as one of the party's elite.

Ojakivi said: "Kiik is the substantive leader of the Center Party's coalition component. He is one of the important strategic aspects of the Center Party. He is an even closer political ally to Ratas [than Ott]," adding that the decision would only be Kiik's to make.

Jüri Ratas as speaker is not in the Reform/Center coalition as such, and neither are two other Center big hitters. One of these is former education minister Mailis Reps, who has now stepped down as the party's Riigikogu faction leader after further allegations of the misuse of ministry funds while she was in office came to light recently. The other is Kadri Simson, who is Estonia's European Commissioner in Brussels.

Postimees' foreign news editor Evelyn Kaldoja said that she, too, thought Kiik would weather the storm.

She said: "He is not ideologically directly at odds with anything. It has to be conceded he is working in a difficult area at a difficult time. Leaders in this area have been making mistakes in every country," referring to Kiik's primary role in dealing with the pandemic.

On the other hand, Anneli Ott's position is more precarious, the panel thought.

Evelyn Kaldoja said that: "If this was a different administration which did not have a clear position on vaccination, what she said might be acceptable. But it is not be in line with the current government."

"If the message is to get vaccinated, there's no room for discussion," she went on.

"Precisely," Mirko Ojakivi responded. "The question is what values ​​a government carries. Does Kallas think this type of discussion is suitable for her government, or is it a matter of principle?"

Despite another Center heavyweight Jaak Aab's comments Thursday that the charges against Ott as being a virtual anti-vaxxer are "assumptions", Ott clearly stated in an interview with daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) that vaccination should be a matter of personal choice, adding that she would not reveal her own vaccination status.

Kaja Kallas, who got her first coronavirus shot this week - she had to hold off for several months after recovering from the virus, which she contracted in March - says she personally has no idea whether her culture minister is vaccinated or not, Postimees reports is its English-language portal .

Anneli Ott, whose remit as culture minister covers a new sweep of activity, including sport and integration, as well as theater, opera, etc., recently took a trip to Cannes to be in attendance when a joint Estonian-Finnish movie was awarded top prize in the famous film festival's main category.

There first became a government minister in late 2020, when she was briefly minister for public administration, effectively minister for the regions and one which had been held in the past, and now is held again, by Jaak Aab. After the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition in mid-January, Ott was given the Minister of Culture post in the Reform/Center administration.

Tanel Kiik has been a government minister throughout the entire duration of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition's life-span, in roughly the same role (previously he was social affairs minister, now minister for health and labor).

Evelyn Kaldoja added that, the situation now is that the ball on this issue was firmly in Kaja Kallas' court as head of government.

She said: "The question for the head of government is whether she interrupts a holiday and holds only talks, or takes serious steps. When you hold the executive power, you still have to act." Kallas was reportedly on vacation through the latter part of July but has been appearing at government press conferences during that time.

Krister Paris, an EPL journalist, said that the main issue with Ott was also that she was acting against the government line on vaccinations, regardless of what her personal views were.

Paris said: "I think that's the crux of the matter. If a person can't get vaccinated themselves for some reason, that's one thing, but if he or she transfers their conviction to other activities, the situation is different."

Mirko Ojakivi added that: "In addition, as a thing stand, she should be more open about what her health reasons are, which prevent her from getting vaccinated," with Kaldoja agreeing.

There was also engaging in populism in a subsequent explanation of her line, namely that vaccination was not the only option, as published by daily Postimees Friday, both Paris and Kaldoja felt.

Mirko Ojakivi added that ousting There may be less difficult than is the case with Kiik, and as for her own work schedule: "The question is whether a vaccination skeptic is suitable for the government, and whether she can work where she has to attend cultural events or conferences, and other events with many people all in the same place at once, or whether she can be constantly tested, and at whose expense. "

"This is a matter of the head of the government's own beliefs and inner convictions. But to my understanding, Kaja Kallas considers such an individual not suitable for the government," Ojakivi went on, with the other two panelists concurring.

Krister Paris said that while in general, a plurality of opinions could be seen as a good thing, in the current situation where the country has its back to the wall in respect of the virus, the signal Ott has sent out nationally by her behavior is questionable.

He said: "It sends out a signal that the position of experts is up for debate, and that the public could search for alternative ways. we afford this in the current situation? "

With reference to both ministers, Mirko Ojakivi said: "It is plausible that in the next few weeks we will start to see how Prime Minister Kaja Kallas may start reforming her own coalition.

The local elections take place in October, the presidential elections, from late August.

The government also announced that large events, many of which would fall under the culture ministry's remit, can only go ahead if organizers conduct checks of all participants - including those performing or working at the event - for their vaccination, test or recovery status.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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