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EKRE chair initiates consultations on prime minister no-confidence motion

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Martin Helme (EKRE).
Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Chair of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) Martin Helme has initiated a cross-party motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform). Isamaa and Center also support the step.

Helme addressed a letter to the chief whips of all Riigikogu parties save for Reform itself, proposing consultations start on the matter and citing the ongoing teachers' strike as the driving factor.

The text reads: "I propose commencing consultations between all Riigikogu party groups, those which support teachers, in order to express a lack of confidence in the prime minister due to her inability and unwillingness to find a solution to the most serious social labor dispute and education crisis of the past few decades."

Helme wrote that the political climate has changed against the backdrop of the strike, which started Monday, adding that the political battle lines are no longer as clearly drawn between coalition and opposition parties, but also run between different coalition parties.

"As of today a situation has emerged where both wider society and the vast majority of parliamentary parties are clearly behind improving the working conditions for teachers, while the prime minister and the prime minister's party are unable, or unwilling, to resolve the situation and to assuage tension in society," the letter continued.

Helme said that it is a matter of conscience whether politicians think simply declaring their wishes and demarcating their political positions is sufficient, in the current situation.

"The Social Democrats and Eesti 200 are coalition parties that, unlike the opposition, have the leverage needed to force decisions through. Parties which a month ago supported the confidence-linked state budget, in which today's salary levels are fixed, cannot credibly demand additional funding if they are not prepared to open up the state budget and not prepared to wind up the government's work and the work of the head of government, in order to achieve this."

The state budget had been passed at a time when the coalition was, in response to a long-running opposition filibuster, routinely tying the passing of bills to motions of confidence in itself as the coalition. In so doing, MPs were voting solely on this and not voting on, or even debating, the content of the bills in question.

Isamaa chair: Censuring the prime minister is the right thing to do

Urmas Reinsalu, chair of Isamaa, in opposition, also says that it is appropriate to initiate a Riigikogu motion of no confidence in the prime minister, saying: "We have consulted about this between all the opposition political parties."

"Isamaa already proposed doing this at the end of last year; now the government's own leadership crisis is already hindering the functioning of society in its entirety," he went on.

Isamaa chair Urmas Reinsalu. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Isamaa chair also expressed a hope that this move will embolden the two smaller coalition partners, ie. Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats (SDE) – the former holding the education minister post, the latter having called for wage rises in its pre-election manifesto – to seek a solution that would permit schoolchildren to return to school next week.

"If the preparation of a vote of no confidence and the fear that smaller coalition partners may join it pressures the prime minister into finding a solution, this in itself would be a positive outcome. The current stand-off and its prolonging in no way correspond to Estonian society's interests, but in fact represent bullying. It is time to end this confusion, one way or another," Reinsalu continued.

Eesti 200 chair Margus Tsahkna, appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday evening, said that education issues are vital, but differences here is not likely to disturb the coalition government's internal cooperation.

Speaking to ERR politics webcast "Otse ujestemajast" on Wednesday, Lauri Läänemets, SDE chair and interior minister, also said that no coalition collapse was imminent.

The teachers' strike began on Monday for an unspecified time period and mostly involves teachers at municipality-run general education schools. An immediate fix, it is reported, would be finding €10.8 million to boost teacher wages for this year alone.

A teachers' strike of this magnitude and duration has not been seen in Estonia before.

Center Party also supports motion

Center's Riigikogu faction said on Friday that it supports the motion of no confidence in Kallas.

"The government led by Kaja Kallas has failed to solve any of the crises and has created more of them, and for the sake of the future of the Estonian state, the Center Party supports the dismissal of the prime minister," said Lauri Laats, vice-chairman of the Center Party.

Lauri Laats Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Laats said the ongoing teachers' strike is the result of the government's policy.

"The opposition in the Riigikogu must unite on this issue because the future of Estonia is at stake. We also expect the support of the MPs who have recently joined the Social Democratic Party and who have strongly criticized Kaja Kallas's actions in the past," said Laats.

The coalition parties have 65 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu together with the members who switched from the Center Party in recent months. A no-confidence motion would require the signatures of at least 21 MPs before it could even be put to the Riigikogu for a vote.

 

The article was updated to add that Isamaa and Center support the no-confidence motion.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook, Helen Wright

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