Isamaa deputy chair hints at decision to enter coalition talks with Reform

Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) on Wednesday's 'Esimene stuudio'.
Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) on Wednesday's 'Esimene stuudio'. Source: ERR

Isamaa MP and the party's deputy chair Tõnis Lukas has hinted that his party may have decided on going into coalition negotiations with the Reform Party.

Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday evening, Lukas expressed a hope that Reform would be able to "maintain allegiance", i.e. to its coalition partner, between now and next year's general election and following last week's ejection from office of junior coalition partner the Center Party.

"I am absolutely certain that we will put this government together and the Reform Party will be able to be loyal for at least nine months," Lukas, a former culture minister, said, in the last moments of the broadcast.

When pushed for clarification, Lukas declined to elaborate, however.

On a different but related note, Lukas said that he found that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' (Reform) dismissal of the seven Center Party ministers last Friday as against the spirit of the constitution, even as it is not against the letter of the constitution.

He said: "The manner in which this change in government that Kallas enacted was brought about or started probably does not sit well with the spirit of the constitution. She is probably not opposed to the constitution and other laws, however. But we cannot get stuck there, because right now is an unstable time, and we must move forward quickly. I can see that the attitude among Estonian politicians has been quite serious during the week; it has been taken on board that the public does not expect such high-jinks on Toompea. It is my hope that Kallas returns to the constitutional basis with her next decision."

Lukas said that Isamaa had put back its decision on which coalition alignment to do negotiation business with – Reform and SDE or Center and EKRE – to Saturday, to make sure the right decision was made.

"A week is needed since, if you don't take a week right now, you'll be bemoaning it for nine months," he said.

Kaja Kallas stated that her party was open to coalition negotiations with Isamaa almost immediately after dismissing the Center Party component of the government last Friday.

There are nine months until the next scheduled election, on March 5 2023.

As to a third possible outcome – Isamaa not plumping for either coalition offer – Lukas said: "Our goal is to influence Estonia's political decisions as far as is possible, especially at a time when we are seeing that patriotic politics; pro-European, open patriotic politics, is highly necessary, people need it. In this case, we do not want to be left out."

Helme: The Reform Party wants to have its extraordinary elections

Also appearing on "Esimene stuudio", Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chair Martin Helme called Kallas' remaining in office, as opposed to resigning, a cynical move, adding that Reform is holding out for extraordinary elections.

He said: "When Kaja Kallas tells you to be man-up and issue a vote of no-confidence in her, what can we read out of this? That is an extremely cynical, political-technological push.

"However, be a woman and step back. She took office from the Riigikogu in January last year, to form a majority coalition with the Center Party, a mandate she then threw overboard with the Center Party [last Friday," Helme said.

Resigning would give Kallas a proper mandate, Helme added. "She can resign, the president will then make a new proposal, she can then attempt to form a majority government, or she will have a mandate as a minority government, but then she will be ruling again legitimately."

"Why is he doing it [this way]? Precisely because the Reform Party wants to have its own extraordinary elections. There is no reason for this, and the fact that the Reform Party is so provocative or sobering as to come and get away with me shows that they want to maximize their current percentage (support rating - ed.) as soon as possible and call for an extraordinary election," a tactic he called irresponsible.

Reform's chief whip at the Riigikogu Mart Võrklaev rejected that claim and stated that the party's actions were legitimate, telling "Esimene stuudio" that: "The Center Party were the ones to disband the recent coalition. The Center Party did so when it presented a bill to disband the government together with the opposition, with the family benefits bill and when the Center Party and EKRE voted against education in Estonian last Wednesday," referring in turn to a vote of no-confidence in Kaja Kallas tabled by Martin Helme, prior to Kallas dismissing the Center ministers, Center's unilateral tabling of a bill to boost family benefits, and Center's voting with EKRE in rejecting a bill which would have made kindergarten education in Estonian-only.

As to Reform's offer of coalition, Võrklaev said: "The Reform Party has today proposed in good faith to Isamaa and SDE to put together a functioning government, and that in a case where we are in a difficult security situation; we know that the autumn and winter will be very difficult, that the country will have a stable government and make important decisions."

Also appearing on "Esimene stuudio," SDE deputy chair Riina Sikkut said that talk of extraordinary elections reflected society's expectation that the parties would resolve their problems.

"In fact, the expectation is just for clarity, and one way to get it is through extraordinary elections, and it's somewhat interesting," she said.

"We can discuss whether someone wants to call extraordinary elections or not, but the real point is that [clarity]. We have not been able to meet the expectations of the public, in governing wisely, and a solution is being sought elsewhere, because there is no hope that we will reach a strong agreement here and be able to continue through to the general election in nine months' time," Sikkut went on.

Center's deputy chair and health minister until last Friday, Tanel Kiik, said that extraordinary elections would not be a disaster for his party, as its support has started to grow again – meaning he did not rule out extraordinary elections and did not rule out a vote of no-confidence in Kaja Kalla.

He said: "It cannot be ruled out that this will have to be done at some point. It is now necessary to find out who will be in the coalition and who is in opposition."

Tõnis Lukas questioned the wisdom of extraordinary elections - never before held in Estonia since the restoration of independence – adding that in other countries where this has happened, there frequently is not a more stable situation in those countries after the off-schedule elections, than there was before.

Isamaa was last in office with Reform in November 2016 when it, along with SDE, called first for the resignation of Taavi Rõivas as premier, following that up with a vote of no-confidence and his replacement by Jüri Ratas (Center).

Isamaa continued in office with Center, and then EKRE, from April 2019 to last January.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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