Isamaa snubs Center to hold coalition talks with Reform, SDE
Isamaa has opted to enter coalition negotiations with the Reform Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), following a meeting of the party's board Saturday.
The announcement ends several days' speculation on whether Isamaa, would take up the Reform Party's offer, issued almost immediately after Prime Minister Kaja Kallas dismissed the seven Center Party ministers from office on Friday, June 3, or take up an offer from the Center Party to recreate the coalition alignment along with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
The development also means that off-schedule national elections held on an extraordinary basis are likely now off the table, though it does not equate to a new coalition being born - this will depend on the negotiations once they get going.
An Isamaa spokesperson said of the announcement that the talks would aim to offer solutions to those problems which have hit Estonian society hardest in recent months, namely the soaring cost of living, energy issues, Estonian-language education, family benefits and the defense and security situation.
Party leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said: "We are aware that there are less than nine months left until the next elections, but an agreement must be reached during the coalition talks on issues related to Estonian-language education, child and family benefits, soaring inflation, security and energy issues. Isamaa will be demanding on these issues, but I am optimistic that we can to find the necessary common ground."
Seeder stressed that the current deadlock at the Riigikogu, which breaks up for summer next Thursday, on the issue of the Family Benefits Act, needs resolving, adding the current government crisis is one that in fact had lasted for several months already.
"The crises of recent times have been accompanied by a crisis of governance which has made the management of the Estonian state more complex and less stable," Seeder, who appeared at the meeting via live video link-up following a brief period of hospitalization, said.
"The government must be able to cooperate with the Riigikogu, while the parties represented at the Riigikogu must also be open to cooperation," he went on.
Isamaa's coalition negotiations delegation will consist of Seeder, party vice chairs Urmas Reinsalu, Tõnis Lukas and Riina Solman, the party's Secretary General and Riigikogu chief whip Priit Sibul, and board chair Mart Maastik.
The time-frame of the talks has yet to be announced; as noted, the Riigikogu breaks up for summer recess on Thursday, June 16, though extraordinary sessions can be held between then and return to normal work schedules in September.
Government ministers themselves do not sit at the Riigikogu, but should a coalition deal be struck between Reform, Isamaa and SDE, it would then need to be voted on at the Riigikogu in order to gain the majority needed to form an administration.
Reform has 34 seats, Isamaa 12 and SDE nine, at the 101-seat chamber, while independent MP Raimond Kaljulaid generally votes with SDE.
Center (26 seats) and EKRE (19 seats) are the only other two parties represented at the XIV Riigikogu, elected in March 2019.
Isamaa itself has seen internal discord in recent months, and several leading members who had formed a breakaway faction were expelled in March.
The Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition was last in office in January 2021; Isamaa was last in office with SDE and Reform in November 2016.
Seeder has given mixed messages over the past week or so on which way the party might swing. Last Friday, June 3, he said that Center and EKRE did not have as much in common with his party as many might think, while statements made after preliminary meetings with both camps earlier this week seemed warmer in relation to Reform/SDE than with Center/EKRE.
On the other hand, yesterday, Friday, June 10, Seeder hit out at Kaja Kallas for not having resigned following the dismissal of the Center ministers, and at President Alar Karis for interfering in the process.
Other options would have been extraordinary elections, never before tried in re-independent Estonia but provided for in the constitution, which would have followed a vote of no-confidence in Kaja Kallas and her Reform Party government – which has ruled as a minority administration over the past week.
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise has denied there is any constitutional crisis in Estonia.
The next scheduled election is March 5 2023.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include information and quotes on Isamaa's decision to enter talks with Reform and SDE.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte