SDE leader: Reform needs to draw conclusions and restore trust

"Esimene stuudio" on Tuesday, September 6, 2023. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

The Reform Party needs to draw conclusions from the Russia business scandal of the prime minister's husband and restore trust in the government and state, SDE leader, Minister of Internal Affairs Lauri Läänemets said during the "Esimene stuudio" party leaders debate Tuesday.

Reform Party deputy chair Jürgen Ligi admitted that the scandal is embarrassing but so are attacks against Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. Ligi added that the scandal is not tied to Reform policy or actions and he believes it has not affected Estonia's foreign policy.

Lauri Läänemets remarked that the Social Democrats are worried as the scandal is undermining the credibility of the government, Estonia as a whole and the prime minister. He added that the public wants clarity in the matter and to see that the Reform Party understands the problem. "But decisions are needed first and foremost inside the Reform Party," he said.

Eesti 200 head, President of the Riigikogu Lauri Hussar also said that whether Kallas is to resign needs to be decided by the prime minister herself and her party.

But Urmas Reinsalu, head of the opposition Isamaa party, argued that resolving the crisis is in the hands of all three coalition partners.

EKRE leader Martin Helme said that Kallas has been systematically lying to the public, both before the elections and in the recent scandal. He suggested that Kallas is directly tied to her husband's business activity in the fact she has given him a business loan and received interest revenue.

Center Party chair Jüri Ratas said that Kaja Kallas has placed Estonian politics in gridlock and agreed with Reinsalu in that the ball is in the court of all three coalition forces.

"I share Urmas Reinsalu's view in that Reform's coalition partners cannot just distance themselves. Yes, the Reform Party bears the brunt of the responsibility, while it is for you to decide whether you are willing to move forward in this situation," he said, adding that it is very difficult for Estonia to appear credible in the EU and NATO right now.

Läänemets admitted that the scandal is having an effect on the functioning of the state, and the Reform Party must resolve the situation.

"We can see the topic of conversation turn back to the prime minister and these [Russia-bound] transports time and again, instead of the future of the economy and people's coping, and I'm afraid we'll end up there no matter what we discuss. It is a major problem. Public debate should concentrate on other matters. That is why it is my message that it is the Reform Party that needs to draw conclusions from this. They need to be drawn one way or the other, and trust needs to be restored in the government and the state as a whole."

In terms of what those conclusions might be, Läänemets said Reform can make staffing decisions and coordinate them with its coalition partners. "But thinking about alternative coalition options for SDE, what would those be? Joining EKRE in a coalition... /.../ Or for Kallas to form a government together with Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) or Reinsalu. The [parliamentary] mathematics tells us that the Reform Party will get to decide the coalition one way or the other."

Jürgen Ligi said that whether to resign is Kallas' personal decision, while be believes Kallas may not know the details of her husband's work because it may not be a topic of conversation around the house. The veteran Reform politician added that he does not condone doing business with Russia or how Kaja Kallas has reacted, adding that her explanations could have been clearer.

Lauri Hussar said he believes Kallas should not resign in the current situation and that the PM should be given the chance to explain all the nuances involved. "Let the press do their job and let's get the facts straight."

Urmas Reinsalu said that Kallas has systematically lied about her husband's business and should therefore leave office. "A prime minister cannot continue after lying," he suggested.

Helme added that he finds Kallas has sold Estonia by participating in her husband's Russia business.

Ratas said that the Reform Party is displaying arrogance and has failed to understand what lies at the heart of the matter. "The core of the matter is that Reform has taken Estonia's credibility to market, and secondly that you have caused political debate to grind to a halt. You should be deliberating over the state budget today."

The outgoing Center leader added that while the coalition can remain, Kallas should be replaced as premier, which would give the parliament a way out of deadlock. Reinsalu agreed that the coalition could move on without Kallas.

Martin Helme also said that the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS or KAPO) failed to do its due diligence and did not run a background check on Kallas before the became prime minister or keep tabs on her husband's Russia business activity until recently.

The Riigikogu Security Agencies Monitoring Select Committee asked ISS Director Margo Palloson Tuesday whether the security agency warned the PM over her husband's business activity but did not get clear answers. The ISS has said, however, that Arvo Hallik's business activity has not violated sanctions or any legal norms.

What will happen in the Riigikogu this fall?

The fall session of the Riigikogu is set to pick up where the opposition's obstruction efforts left off before the summer break. Urmas Reinsalu said that the current crisis of values needs to be resolved one precondition of which is Kaja Kallas' resignation.

Speaker Lauri Hussar said the Board of the Riigikogu has met to discuss ways to resolve obstruction and has clear plans. He suggested that the opposition needs to take back at least some of its bills and interpellations and settle for written answers to some of those that remain.

"You will only be restricting your own rights if you don't," Hussar said. "You will not get timely answers to businesslike queries and will halt parliamentary work and active discussion. Do it and let us head into the fall session in a way that respects the rights of the coalition and the opposition."

The Riigikogu spring session was mired by efforts at obstruction by the opposition that filed thousands of bills and interpellations to effectively block the parliament's work and keep the coalition from passing its bills. The Reform Party, Eesti 200 and SDE overcame these efforts by voting not to register any more after a certain number had been processed in what has been described as a controversial move, even though the opposition's tactic is not held to be in accordance with good parliamentary practice either.

Martin Helme repeated once again that he believes Reform won the election by lying to the people, and that extraordinary elections could be a way out of the crisis.

Jüri Ratas remarked that proposing the opposition take back its bills hardly amounts to a deal, and that the solution lies in the prime minister's resignation.

Lauri Läänemets said that the president should help mediate the situation.

"I believe we need to start by saying that it's neither the opposition nor the coalition's fault entirely. We all have a role. Everyone placed their bets in spring and they have been growing ever since, unfortunately. That is the first thing. If we all admit it, we can find a way to move on. I'm afraid that in reality, nothing will happen at first, which leaves me quite worried. It seems to me that EKRE are not willing to make any headway, meaning that perhaps we could make progress if Isamaa and Center were to distance themselves from the national conservatives' positions. We could move on from there. But I'm afraid it will take some time," he said.

"Perhaps we need an arbiter, /.../ perhaps we need the president to sit down with the sides and propose solving this abnormal situation," the SDE leader added.

Ligi said that politicians should not aim to score points for themselves or their party and should instead concentrate on making sure the country keeps going.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski

Source: Esimene stuudio

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