While Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), heading up a minority, Reform-only government, would not remain in office for long, a vote of no-confidence in Kallas on the part of the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, runs the risk of ending in an extraordinary general election at which Reform would likely strengthen its position, should the motion fail, political scientist Martin Mölder says.
Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) on Friday, Mölder said: "For as long as Kaja Kallas and the Reform Party are in government and while this government has not resigned, and [Kallas] has not seen a motion of no-confidence in her, a new government cannot take office."
This made sense, Mölder said, from the perspective of remaining the senior coalition partner in a future line-up.
"Even if she may have already received support from among the Riigikogu parties," Mölder went on, "In the competitive political situation, Kaja Kallas did not want to give up her advantage, and wanted to be as sure as possible that [Reform] were the founders of the new government."
This was also of concern, Mölder said, given the current security situation and a desire to head off the resurrection of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa line-up, where possible.
"If Kallas had resigned, he would potentially have paved the way for the coming of an EKRE, Center Party and Isamaa government, should such a coalition come to fruition," he went on.
This also related to the rules regarding the formation of a coalition, Mölder added.
"There is also a small catch at play here; a new government cannot take office until the preceding government has left office."
The only way for the latter outcome, so far as the Reform Party was concerned, to transpire was for a vote of no-confidence in Kallas to be held at the Riigikogu, he went on.
If this failed, extraordinary elections would follow.
Isamaa now faces a tough choice, Mölder said – form a coalition with Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE), or enter coalition with Center and EKRE.
On the other hand, with elections looming next March, Isamaa has also used to crisis to communicate clearly where it might stand on some issues, with these stances not always amenable to Reform.
"Even if we think about political priorities, Isamaa is the only party who has come out so far with what it wants to offer voters in the next election. These include very high investments in children, education, security, which should be covered at the expense of the loan money."
"This is certainly unacceptable to the Reform Party, and we are seeing this opposition on a smaller scale around the bill to increase support for children and families, " he went on.
At the same time, it would be easier to find support for these ideas from the Center Party, he added.
The other possible scenario, an off-schedule, extraordinary election, is unlikely, Mölder added, given Reform's current strong rating according to most polls. An election might see the party, already the largest in terms of Riigikogu seats, at 34, strengthen its position further.
An extraordinary general election, though provided for in the constitution, have not been held in the 30-plus years since Estonia's independence was restored.
The difficult situation with inflation, the energy crisis – likely to be exacerbated from the fall when temperatures start dropping and demand rises – and the security crisis, make being in government an unenviable task for anyone, Mölder noted, adding that the opposition parties may even leave Reform in isolation through to the March 2023 general election.
This would mean Reform would act as a minority government.
Conversely, Mölder said, remaining in opposition ahead of a general election can also signal to voters that a party was better at talking, than at acting, which might also cost a party.
There are 101 seats at the Riigikogu, meaning a coalition (ministers themselves do not sit at the Riigikogu) would need 51 or more MPs to have a majority.
As noted Reform has 34 seats. Center has 26, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) 19, Isamaa 12 and the Social Democrats (SDE) nine, to which can be added independent MP Raimond Kaljulaid, who generally votes with the party.
Two possible line-ups have been mentioned at this early stage: A Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition, which would have 56 seats (see above), and a Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, which would pool 57 seats.
The first alignment was last in office in November 2016; the latter only left office in January last year.
The prime minister announced her intention to dismiss Center's seven ministers from government on Friday afternoon, obtaining President Alar Karis' assent to do so shortly afterwards.
The development marked weeks of stalemate, punctuated by more than one plea from the head of state for a functioning coalition, given the security situation.
The next general election is March 5 2023. Another party, Eesti 200, while it has no Riigikogu seats at present, has been polling well above the 5-percent threshold required to win seats in a given constituency.
Editor: Andrew Whyte