Coalition talks could be lengthiest ever, says justice minister

Urmas Reinsalu (right) and Sven Mikser (centre of photo) discuss possible electoral outcomes with ERR's Indrek Kiisler on Wednesday's Direct from the news house.
Urmas Reinsalu (right) and Sven Mikser (centre of photo) discuss possible electoral outcomes with ERR's Indrek Kiisler on Wednesday's Direct from the news house. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The coalition negotiations following the 3 March general election could be amongst the most protracted ever, according to Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), from one of the two junior coaltion parties. However, foreign minister Sven Mikser (SDE) from the other minor coalition partner, noted that both electoral law and the European elections which follow soon after, in May, puts a time limit on talks.

''I predict that these coalition negotiations will be the longest in the history of Estonian parliamentary politics. I think we are talking about not one month, but two, this time,'' Mr Reinsalu said, speaking on Wednesday morning on ERR current affairs show Direct from the news house.

Since a single party has not to date clinched the 51-seat majority needed to go it alone as a government, coalition negotiations follow the elections. These generally see the party that wins the most seats, from which the prime minister is already appointed ahead of the talks, being supported by two smaller parties to the exclusion of the others.

Negotiations after the last election in 2015 took a little over a month, with the 30-seat Reform Party teaming up with Isamaa (then known as IRL) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), who between them had just under 30 seats. The Free Party had also been in the picture earlier in the negotiations, but could not find common ground with Reform or Isamaa and so pulled out altogether

Mr Reinsalu put the likelihood of lengthy negotiations down to the sheer number of possible combinations likely after the election, with most parties theoretically able to form a coaltion with most others.

Foreign minister's view

Sven Mikser SDE who as noted also has skin in the game as being from the other junior coalition party noted that the negotiations do have a shelf life, both due to Estonian electoral regulations, and the impending European Parliamentary elections in May.

"Certainly, there is a statutory time limit on any coalition talks – a deadline for proposing the new government to the president, and getting the prime minister presented before parliament," said Mr Mikser (the prime minister and his or her cabinet do not sit in the Riigikogu, but regularly appear there in accounting for their activities and for questions from the house).

''But, hot on the heels of the election results comes a new campaign for the European Parliament. Probably this can happen concurrently with the coaltion negotiations, to an extent,'' Mr Mikser continued, which Mr Reinsalu noted as an additional, encumbring factor.

Under Estonian electoral law, the first sitting of the new Riigikogu should take place within 10 days of the election results, though this can be delayed if complaints are raised. In any case, once the new Riigikogu is convened, the government resigns, and the President should appoint a new prime minister within 14 days, who in turn is tasked with forming a new government via coalition talks.

The President also declares the running of the European elections a minimum of three months before election day. Since the first round (of two) of the European elections takes place on 26 May, this duty must be performed by 25 February.

After a vote of no confidence in then-prime minister Taavi Rõivas in November 2016, Isamaa and SDE concluded an agreement with Centre, who swapped places with Reform, with Jüri Ratas now prime minister.

Most recent opinion polls put Centre slightly ahead of Reform in support. One possible outcome could be that they form a two-party coalition. Other parties likely to pick up significant numbers of seats are the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), and newcomer Estonia 200.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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