Sildam: The tripartite coalition is over

Toomas Sildam.
Toomas Sildam. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The likelihood of the ruling Centre Party being able to put together a new, workable coalition in the wake of the breakdown in relations concerning the UN Global Migration Compact is negligible, says ERR's senior political correspondent Toomas Sildam, whose opinion piece on the episode follows.

This morning [Friday morning-ed.] Jüri Ratas' government fell.

The formal cause of the breakdown is differing opinions on the UN's Global Compact on Migration, and whether this is a non-binding set of guidelines, or a much more far-reaching framework which will in practice supersede national laws.

Opinions over the last few days from the Ministry of Justice in particular, backed up by legal opinion from academics and the Chancellor of Justice's office, pointed towards the latter case, and on Thursday the government effectively broke up.

The Isamaa/Pro Patria party, from whose ranks the justice minister Urmas Reinsalu comes, was unanimous in opposing coalition partner Centre's compromise offers, including acceding to the compact, but adding in a written clause stating the government does not directly endorse it but entrusts further moves to the foreign minister.

Jüri Ratas could have called for a vote, though that would mean abandoning the unwritten rule that governments in Estonia make their decisions by consensus. It would also lead Pro Patria quitting for good, and Mr Ratas did not want to take the risk, not least because the state budget is about to go through its second reading. He clearly also wanted to smooth things over with Pro Patria and keep them on board.

The move led to sabotge in effect with [SDE Leader] Jevgeni Ossinovksi suggesting the prime minister remove Mr Reinsalu from office. This was the turning point, after which it was clear the coalition, which has been in place for two years, is no more.

Ossinovski paints himself into a corner

Mr Ossinovski painted himself into a corner by doing this, however, and his actions will only work out if the government does indeed collapse. If it does not, he can hardly shrug his shoulders and go back to being in the coalition via his party [Mr Ossinovski currently does not hold a ministerial post – ed.] as if nothing happened.

On the one hand, the values conflict at play here is poorly explained to the public, as simply conservatism versus liberalism, or Hungary/the Czech Republic versus France, but on the other, the fervour raised by the document seems aimed at whipping up the pre-election polls. Plus there's always the temptation to rake over old ground.

Cast your mind back a bit and you'll remember that this is the same Urmas Reinsalu whom the coalition government were happy to defend unanimously, when a no confidence motion was proposed against him on the issue of his apparently dismissive attitude towards the question of violence towards women [concerning the case of a former director of now-defunct NO99 Theatre, accused of striking a female coworker, around two years ago – Mr Reinsalu's comments on the case date from early this year – ed.].

Ratas' bad choices

Following Mr Ossinovski's ultimatum, it became clear that Mr Reinsalu is going nowhere of his own volition. But what it does mean is that Mr Ratas will no longer be able to make the claim that, whatever else happens, we are friends. The time for friendship is over; there will be no further cooperation between the parties.

If Mr Ratas were to request permission for the removal of the justice minister to the president, that would be followed by Pro Patria in its entirety quitting the government. But even now the Centre Party has to make a fundamental choice of which partner to rescue and keep with them in office, SDE or Pro Patria. With Mr Ossinovski's laying his cards on the table, there will be those who blame him for breaking up a government which might otherwise have been able to sit in suspense for the remainder of its term until the March 2019 elections.

So now Centre, with just 25 seats of its own at the Riigikogu [the opposition Reform Party has 31 seats – ed.] will not so much find it difficult, as impossible, to put together a new coalition. It may limp on as a minority government, but it would be hampered by having to make concessions to both the left and the right, and its ministers would meet hostility at the Riigikogu on a weekly basis, and would also give the opposition a regular comedy slot in seeing how badly run Estonia would now be.

Reform could take the initiative, for instance by making up a coalition with SDE and the Free Party. The temptation to exact its revenge is understandable [after the last Reform Party was unceremoniously dumped out of office two years ago and replaced by Centre, after a vote of no-confidence in Taavi Rõivas – ed.], but would it really be wise to abandon the its proactive role in opposition three months before the election, just to get the prime ministerial role in earlier than scheduled?

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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