Opinion digest: Estonia headed for government crisis ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (left) and Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (left) and Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

Following the Reform Party's Friday ultimatum, either Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) will resign today Monday, or there will be a vote of no confidence against him. In the latter case, the government can't rely on the Social Democrats to toe the line, which could take Estonia into a government crisis, analysts and observers think.

Reinsalu has faced massive criticism following a statement he made in the current debate surrounding the choice of the NO99 theatre and director Tiit Ojasoo for the cultural part of President Kersti Kaljulaid's Feb. 24 centennial reception (ERR News reported). On Friday the Reform Party issued an ultimatum: either Reinsalu resigns by Monday, or there will be a vote of no confidence against him.

Potential for escalating social conflict if Reinsalu stays on

Political commentator Ahto Lobjakas said on ERR's Raadio 2 last weekend that if Urmas Reinsalu should stay on, this could have consequences for Estonia's social cohesion.

Should Reinsalu get away with what he said, it would legitimize and empower a group of chauvinists that have recently become a lot louder, and further escalate the conflict between them and more progressive elements of society, Lobjakas hinted. They would get even louder, and this way Reinsalu's staying on would boost the current atmosphere of right-wing conservatism even further.

As far as the coalition is concerned, Lobjakas is pessimistic. The only way this government can continue is if the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) decides to replace Reinsalu. If that doesn't happen and the Social Democrats vote to oust him, IRL could leave the coalition.

The only possible combination would then be one of the Center Party, the Social Democrats, the Free Party, and Margus Tsahkna. This would give the government 51 out of 101 votes in parliament, a majority so thin the government wouldn't be able to push important changes through.

For the 2019 Riigikogu election, what will happen next is of decisive importance not only to those looking to score with the right-wing voters. In light of Estonia's increasing tendency to the political right, the government, backing Reinsalu, could easily become a target for more progressive forces. "If Reinsalu doesn't fall, it's open season," Lobjakas said.

Estonia close to government crisis, government's fate depends on Social Democrats

Lobjakas' colleague on Raadio 2's State of the nation broadcast, Andrus Karnau, pointed out that both the Center Party and IRL have already announced that they are backing Reinsalu, which means the fate of the government is now in the hands of the third coalition partner, the Social Democrats.

Political analyst Andreas Kaju agrees. In his opinion, Estonia is rapidly approaching a full-on government crisis. He agrees with Karnau in that the government's fate depends on the Social Democrats, but also points to unrest in the Center Party.

"We're looking at a strange situation where all the leaders of the coalition parties, including IRL chairman Seeder and the Center Party's Jüri Ratas, have said that the government will continue, that everything's okay and there's no reason for a vote of no confidence, but among the Social Democrats as well as apparently also the Center Party there are those who are ready to vote against a minister. This shows that we're very, very close to a government crisis," Kaju told ERR's Aktuaalne kaamera newscast.

The only thing that would fix the situation is a voluntary resignation on the part of Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu, Kaju said.

In a potential vote of no confidence against Reinsalu, Kaju believes the Center Party's group would manage to enforce discipline. In the case of the Social Democrats, that would be a lot more difficult, as their group has already announced that their MPs are free to vote their conscience. That, according to Kaju, is a bad sign for the coalition as a whole.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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