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Tanel Kiik: My stance on Kallas resignation remains unchanged

Tanel Kiik (now SDE) with Kaja Kallas (Reform).
Tanel Kiik (now SDE) with Kaja Kallas (Reform). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A former government minister who announced Friday he would be defecting from the opposition Center Party to join the ranks of the coalition Social Democrats (SDE) says the move has not changed his stance on Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and her policies.

This includes standing by statements that Kallas should resign as prime minister.

Tanel Kiik, a former health minister, had until this week been Center's chief whip at the Riigikogu, but announced Friday that he, along with five other high-profile Center Party MPs, would be leaving the party to join SDE.

Three other MPs are joining SDE with Kiik, including former regional affairs minister Jaak Aab, changing the balance in favor of SDE over Center, which is down to seven Riigikogu seats now.

None of this changed Kiik's position on Kaja Kallas and some of her government's policies, Kiik told the press conference announcing his move to SDE.

"It is is no secret that we have been quite critical of several decisions made by this government coalition. I certainly think that hiking VAT (by two percentage points to 22 percent, effective from the start of this year – ed.) was not the right way to go, I still think that cutting family benefits was not the right way to go either."

"There was a twofold mistake here. First, a mistake was made by raising the family benefits too prematurely, then a second mistake was made by lowering them again. I have also said this at the Riigikogu, and we did not vote in favor of these bills," Kiik went on.

The short-lived large families benefits hike was sponsored by Isamaa when it was in office with Reform and SDE and came into effect around a year ago, only for the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition to remove it upon entering office last April, as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures.

Kiik also maintains his line, held while he was in the Center Party, that Kaja Kallas should resign as prime minister.

He said: "It would be fair to say that I was not the only one to express this view; it has been expressed by 70 percent of the Estonian people."

"If you ask what advice I would provide to Kaja Kallas during this crisis, well this advice has not changed. Kaja Kallas will likely make her own decision [however]," he continued.

"We didn't sign the coalition agreement, but as you can understand, now as soon-to-be members of the coalition party, we have to discuss our positions, our messages with the SDE Riigikogu grouping. If we have any concerns or disagreements, we will certainly express those there and then, at that meeting," Kiik said, the "we" presumably referring to Aab and the other two MPs to join SDE, Ester Karuse and Andre Hanimägi, as well as Kiik himself.

Kiik, who was health minister 2019-2021 and was for a brief time one of Tallinn's deputy mayors, said the new SDE MPs also support further debated on the tax issue.

"It's no secret what SDE's and our visions of the tax system is - those who can afford to pay, i.e. the wealthiest component of society, should be taxed [accordingly]. Be this a progressive income tax, be it a tax on luxuries, certain property taxes; we certainly support all these principles," he added.

Kiik said he hoped that progress would be made here with this bolstering of SDE's ranks, adding that it also lessened the chance of the current coalition going down the "right-wing route that we saw, for example, during the economic crisis of 2009," referring to fiscal policy and the austerity measures put in place when Andrus Ansip (Reform) was prime minister.

Andre Hanimägi, Center's former general secretary, too, had some critical to say concerning the government's financial policy.

"Rational state finances are of course important to have, but striving for balanced budgets cannot be done at the expense of the weakest, at the expense of Estonia's future," Hanimägi said, also at Friday's press conference, adding that the tax issue required more discussion.

Two other MPs who have left Center, Enn Eesmaa and Kersti Sarapuu, both long-serving politicians, are not joining SDE or any other party.

The exodus, which includes large numbers of grass-roots members as well as political big-hitters, has been prompted by the accession to party chairmanship of Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart, fears over the party's relationship with the Russian regime, as well as the more day-to-day management of the party, which Kiik said Friday had not improved in the three months since Kõlvart took over.

In the fall, three other prominent Centrists left: Former minister Tõnis Mölder and former Center chief whip Jaanus Karilaid (both to Isamaa), and Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski (to Reform).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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