Former minister sees Centre-Reform coalition feasible in election prognosis

Jürgen Ligi (Reform).
Jürgen Ligi (Reform). Source: ERR

A Centre-Reform coalition after the March election is now looking more realistic, according to Reform parliamentary group chair and former minister Jürgen Ligi (Reform).

''Of all the outcomes, this is the most likely, though I wouldn't pitch the probability higher than 50-50,'' Mr Ligi told ETV current affairs show Pealtnägija on Wednesday evening.

Of the rest, Mr Ligi said by playing the extreme card, some parties had marginalised themselves, referring principally to the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). At a recent EKRE rally in opposition to the UN Global Migration Compact, a scuffle ensued after Social Democratic Party (SDE) candidate and MEP Indrek Tarand tried to use EKRE's microphone to address the crowd.

Centre-SDE coalition still on the cards

However, Mr Ligi said a Centre-SDE coalition was still also possible. The current coalition is made up of Centre, SDE and Isamaa/Pro Patria. Mr Ligi did not directly address the latter party, which was also opposed to the compact and effectively sparked a government crisis, via justice minister Urmas Reinsalu, only climbing down after the issue went to a Riigikogu vote.

Mr Ligi did reserve some criticisms for the current and previous finance ministers, Toomas Tõniste and Sven Sester, both of Pro Patria (Mr Ligi is a former finance minister).

"I don't have a particularly high regard for either of them. Let's say they are not finance minister material, in terms of both background preparation and backbone,'' Mr Ligi said.

Two cheeks of the same behind

He also rejected the idea of a hearts-and-minds struggle between EKRE and Centre (although on different points on the political continuum, EKRE has been courting the Russian vote, traditionally a Centre preserve).

''The Centre Party and EKRE are like two cheeks of the same behind'' said Mr Ligi in characteristically salty terms.

''They have an overlapping agenda and interests as regards their links to the Kremlin, but EKRE lacks an ability to debate. They have a couple of figures who are good speakers, but they don't make arguments, merely declarations, which is a very different thing,'' he continued.

Mr Ratas not a natural leader

On Centre chief and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, Mr Ligi said that he was no leader.

"For me, a leader is one who drives debate. I do not go for this purposely empty tone. I see a leader as one who can argue and face up to questions, not just share out chocolate. The question is not whether he is a good person; the question is whether he is a leader, and he is certainly not that,'' Mr Ligi continued.

Mr Ligi also had doubts about his own party's leader, Kaja Kallas, someone he has not shied away from launching barbs at in the past, though still threw his weight behind her as party leader.

"It's definitely difficult for her, simply because she hasn't been leader for long, but we support her in any case; she certainly has the strongest team,'' he continued.

Reform righting itself

The change in party secretary-general was also an unnecessary episode, Mr Ligi felt. Getting the right experience in the role would avoid coming adrift, though he believed Reform was back on an even keel now (former secretary-general Kert Valdaru, Ms Kallas' choice for the role, stepped down in November, replaced by Erkki Keldo. Mr Valdaru since announced he won't run for Reform in the election either).

For his own part, Mr Ligi again returned to his rather earthy modus operandi: ''Quite frankly I don't look at the Estonian state as a piece of excrement, but as my life's work and I actually pick which topics to fight on, rather than reactively wait for them to crop up unexpectedly. I think that this has turned out well,'' he opined.

The original interview (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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