Former Reform Prime Minister and current MEP Andrus Ansip issued a withering summation of his party-mate and current premier, Kaja Kallas, in an interview given to portal Delfi Friday, likening her behavior to a to-the-manor-born lady of leisure ('Mõisapreili' in Estonan) who thought the entire political world revolves around them. Ansip, prime minister 2005-2014, also named two potential replacements for the current incumbent.
Speaking to journalist Vilja Kiisler on her regular "Kiisler küsib" face-to-face interview podcast (link in Estonian), Ansip said that: "Only a selfish 'manor lady' could think that his life in the manor began and ended with them, and that life revolves only around them".
"Every leader has to think about what will become of the institution-organization when he is no more. I have not even noticed that Martin Helme has joined the Reform Party. "
Ansip said that a prime minister and party chair cannot give the signal that there might be others in their party who could do the job.
"This way of thinking is very distorted," he added.
As to who a theoretical replacement might be, Ansip, who stepped down in order to allow fresh blood to lead the party in the 2015 Riigikogu election - in the event, Taavi Rõivas - listed one current minister and one party member from the world of business.
"If you want a list of names that badly, I don't know if I'm doing the people any good or any harm, but there are some in this party. Those who I named as my potential successors are all still living and in full health."
"[Education minister] Liina Kersna is prime minsiter material. [Tallink chief] Paavo Nõgene has also been extremely active in through the coronavirus crisis. Paavo Nõgene is also a long-term Reform Party member" he went on.
Ansip made his remarks after Kiisler brought up a recent interview the prime minister gave to daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL), in which journalist Raimo Poom asked her if she had considered resigning (link in Estonian).
Kallas said: "Yes, of course I have thought about it. But then [EKRE leader] Martin Helme would be able to form a government and then everything would lurch to the right, in Estonia."
Ansip said that he would not ever have taken a similar attitude during his time as prime minister, while he named a large number of people he had at the time named as potential successors, including current finance minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.
Kaja Kallas became Reform leader in summer 2018, following a stint as an MEP, and became prime minister in January this year. She and her government have faced recent criticism over handling of the pandemic, even from the head of state, while one recent poll put her support level at well below 50 percent.
Kallas has also appeared to have to backed down over the issue of a vaccine damages fund, proposed by Reform's coalition partner, Center, and recently finding support from Reform's social protection minister, Signe Riisalo, while rumors of a rift between the two parties have recurred on this and other issues, mostly relating to the pandemic management.
The original Delfi interview (in Estonian) is here.
Kallas and Ansip have traded verbal blows before
The pair had already clashed in the recent past, ERR reports, when Ansip criticized Kallas for keeping on Anneli Ott (Center) as culture minister after the latter had reportedly refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
This sparked a response from Kallas, who told ERR's Estonian news that: "Andrus Ansip is always tougher in words that he is in actions. If you take a look at his time in government, did he ask any minister to leave, who ought to have left a long time before? Look at this history, and see if he has acted on his own words."
Ansip later said to Vikerraadio, in regard to that statement: "What exactly Kaja Kallas meant when she said this, or if she thought at all, must be asked of Kaja Kallas herself.
This article was updated to include information on earlier statements Kallas and Ansip had made.
Editor: Andrew Whyte