Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' refusal last Friday to accept Liina Kersna's resignation as education minister has met with responses from opinion formers as to Reform's right to continue to govern as a minority administration and speculation the developments were pre-planned, although some commentators had praise for Kersna's work as minister in and of itself, news portal Delfi reports.
The party comms chief: Pre-planned 'political-technological' solution
Karl Sander Kase, Isamaa's communications chief – Isamaa is currently in coalition negotiarions with Reform – told Delfi (link in Estonian) that the developments: Kersna submitting her resignation on Thursday and Kallas declining to accept it the next day (the prime minister was still at the Madrid Summit when Kersna resigned – ed.) demonstrates that it was pre-planned and a convenient "political-technological" solution has now been found.
This raises several questions, Kase added – namely how serious Kersna, also deputizing as culture minister, is about her resignation, bearing in mind she is under criminal investigation, what it means in terms of ministers taking responsibility going forward, and the fact that State Secretary Taimar Peterkop said that the government could continue to function without the minister in office.
Another question, Kase said, is how long is it viable for what is already a minority government to continue with each minister holding two portfolios – necessitated by the dismissal of the Center ministers just over a month ago - adding that each time the boundaries of what is permissible get pushed at, the more leeway there is for further pushing at the envelope.
The lawyer: Government is constitutionally rendered incapable
Allar Jõks, a former Chancellor of Justice and current attorney-at-law, said that Kersna's leaving office would mean that constitutionally speaking, the government would be rendered incapable of making decisions - § 16(2) of the constitution requires at least half the members of an elected government being in office – with half of Center's ministers gone, Kersna's leaving office would tip that balance (there were seven Reform ministers and seven Center ministers, plus Kallas as prime minister, when that coalition entered office in January 2021 – ed.).
Jõks also referred to it as a stretching of legality, while said that a month of only half of the ministers in office (the Center Party ministers were dismissed on June 3 – ed.) was a record since the restoration of independence in 1991 while, heatwave aside, there was no clear and present danger which would necessitate this, he said.
The opposition party leader: Deep state in action
Leader of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) Martin Helme said that what had happened was an example of the deep state in action, with State Secretary Peterkop only taking into account the existing seven Reform Party ministers as constituting the current government (see above) and calling for a vote of no-confidence from Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) – the two parties actually in coalition negotiations with Reform at present.
An agreement was made between Kallas and Kersna even at the stage the rapid Covid tests were procured last October – it is in respect of one deal that Kersna is under investigation – in that Kallas ok-ing the procurement at the time made it "right" in and of itself, even as the alleged sums involved in the irregularities stretch into the millions of euros, Helme said.
The businessman and former minister: Drama replacing statesmanship
Former IT and foreign trade minister Kaimar Karu expressed concern over a minister's ostensible taking responsibility for something being negated by the prime minister, substituting "statesmanship for drama", though stated that the prime minister and the government was continuing to act within the confines of the law.
The newspaper editor-in-chief: Situation 'absurd'
Martin Šmutov, editor-in-chief of evening paper Õhtuleht, called the development – allowing Kersna to remain in office - "absurd", noting that half of the government (in the sense of ministerial posts – as noted the seven Reform ministers hold 14 portfolios between them -ed.) should be replaced anyway, after a coalition deal is struck.
The local party boss: Kersna a good minister, Reform lacks mandate to continue in office alone
Antti Leigri, Center Party chair on the island of Hiiumaa, praised Kersna, whom he said was Reform's best minister, for keeping schools running in the fall after the remote learning of the earlier stages of the pandemic but reiterated concerns over a seven-minister government remaining in office into its second month, stating that Reform does not have a mandate to lead Estonia on its own and doing so will damage life on Hiiumaa and in the rest of the country.
The original Delfi piece (in Estonian) is here.
Kersna tendered her resignation on Thursday after criminal proceedings were opened against her in relation to one of three Covid rapid test procurements which had come under scrutiny from May, when misdemeanor proceedings were first launched.
While Kersna survived a no-confidence vote at the Riigikogu last month, she submitted her resignation on Friday after the prime minister returned from the NATO Summit in Madrid.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said Friday that she would not be taking Kersna's resignation letter to Alar Karis — as head of state, this would be the next formal step in the case of a resigning minister — until coalition negotiations are finalized.
Those negotiations are into their fourth week with little sign of an agreement being struck.
Editor: Andrew Whyte