Aadu Must, MP from the opposition Center Party, was re-elected chief of the Riigikogu's culture committee over former education minister Liina Kersna (Reform), after two rounds of voting failed to elect the latter, despite her appointment to the post being included in the recently-signed Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition agreement.
Kersna will instead be committee vice-chair.
Must and Kersna polled at exactly the same number of votes in both the first and second-round of balloting, meaning, following procedural rules, lots were drawn to decide which of the two would be committee chair and deputy chair.
As it turned out, Must was the lucky winner.
In addition to Must and Kersna, the Riigikogu cultural committee consists of coalition MPs Jaak Juske (SDE), Signe Kivi (Reform), Heidy Purga (Reform) and Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits (Isamaa), along with opposition MPs Helle-Moonika Helme (EKRE), Marko Šorin (Center) and Siim Kiisler (independent).
The Riigikogu is on summer recess until the second week of September but was convened on an extraordinary basis Tuesday to vote on the culture committee. All other Riigikogu committees saw their chairpersons elected last week.
Liina Kersna handed in her resignation at the end of June after criminal proceedings were opened up against her in respect of Covid fast testing procurements for schools held last fall, but Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) refused to accept that resignation.
More recently, media reports stated that she had hired a photographer on ministry funding to take pictures for her social media accounts.
Reform had been in office alone as a minority administration since Kaja Kallas dismissed Center from the coalition in early June, until the coalition deal with Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) was signed on July 8, with the new government taking office on July 18.
As noted, the deal included a provision for Kersna to be elected culture committee chair.
Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) is now education minister.
Center, independent, Isamaa MPs: Strange way for Kersna to take political responsibility
Tõnis Mölder (Center), who is to replace Must on the committee itself following the latter's installation as chair, the session demonstrated inconsistencies in the new coalition.
He said: "We must recognize those MPs who think that Liina Kersna, someone who is under criminal investigation, is not the right person to lead the culture committee. Her decisions made as the Minister of Education in the organization of the test procurement raised many questions, and her stepping into a leadership position with the support of Kaja Kallas seems extremely cynical."
While the ratio of coalition-opposition votes was five to three, ERR reports, meaning that Kersna should have won the vote by that margin – taking former Isamaa MP Siim Kiisler into account as an independent – but in the event, one ballot paper was spoiled, leading to the even split.
Kiisler told ERR he voted against Kersna's candidacy. Isamaa MP Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits meanwhile said that she did not vote.
Kiisler expressed consternation at Kersna even applying for a high-level role after she had said she would take political responsibility over the rapid test procurement saga, and did not mince his words in adding that such activity would be more expected from the Center Party who, he said: "Pushes people who are involved in criminal cases into various important positions. In my opinion, the Reform Party should not do this. I am very disappointed in Reform in this regard."
Ladõnskaja-Kubits took a similar line, adding that the role of Riigikogu committee chair is in fact more significant than that of minister.
With regard to the agreement signed with Reform, Ladõnskaja-Kubits, who has stated that she will be leaving the Riigikogu after the March 2023 general election, said that they had been informed that this was a sensitive issue and their position regarding the candidate, i.e. Kersna, was also known.
She said: "Ultimately, I think that there are strong experts in the Reform Party who could handle this position perfectly. I certainly respect the coalition agreement sufficiently that this place should go to a Reform Party member, but the question is, who among them could fill the position," before going on to name Heidy Purga as one such person.
This article was updated to include comments from Tõnis Mölder, Siim Kiisler and Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits.
Editor: Andrew Whyte