Centre-EKRE talks: Ligi characteristically terse, Kaljulaid Shakespearean

Jürgen Ligi (Reform).
Jürgen Ligi (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk

The ongoing coalition talks between the Centre Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, have drawn plenty of relevant comment from those with skin in the game. Big hitters from both Centre and Reform, the party which won the most seats at the election on 3 March but which currently finds itself in the cold, had their views set out in daily Postimees.

Reform Party vice-chair Jürgen Ligi has been vocal about what he sees as Isamaa's naïvety in allowing the Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coaltion talks, popularly called ''EKRE-IKE'', to come about, and the nature that such a coalition might take. He also said that, far from his own party behaving arrogantly, a common criticism lobbed at Reform, it had in fact behaved with humility at the beginning of the coalition talks and following its electoral victory over Reform on 3 March.

''Isamaa now seems to think it can 'domesticate' EKRE,'' Mr Ligi, appearing on Raadio Kukku current affairs show Vahend Postimehega, with his EKRE counterpart Henn Põlluaas, said.

Mr Põlluaas responded by saying such a taming of his party would not happen, before moving on to the topic of judicial reform, an EKRE central policy, and the installation of elected judges rather than political appointees.

The pair also clashed on economics and the question of whether Reform and EKRE share common ground here. Mr Ligi said that EKRE's economic policy was questionable: ''The Helmes throw maths out of the window. How can you double pensions when you reduce VAT at the same time,'' he questioned.

A dispute also arose as to whether VAT is a production input. "Oh, God, I'll write that down then,'' he said at one point.

Raimond Kaljulaid: EKRE can be stopped

Meanwhile Centre Party MP Raimond Kaljulaid has said that blocking EKRE from getting into office was certainly viable, and that several Centre members agreed with him.

The key is the status of the Russian-speaking populace, and its representatives, of which he is one, he said, adding that they need not be shackled to EKRE, while stopping short of a call for rebellion.

He also appealed to Shakespeare to make the point: ''Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more,'' (Brutus in Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2).

Mr Kaljulaid, who quit the Centre Party board on Tuesday on the issue of his party's agreeing to talks with EKRE, outlined how he would do this in a to-order piece for Postimees.

Raimond Kaljulaid on ERR's Otse uudistemajast. 17 October 2018. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Mr Kaljulaid noted that a party winning an election but not going on to make it into office (due to the runner up parties make a coalition deal amongst themselves – this happened in 1999 when Centre won the largest number of seats but was kept out of office) was hardly without precedent, and did not run counter to Estonia's parliamentary democracy.

At the same time, he also pondered on what the reaction might be if the Reform and Centre roles were reversed and Centre was on 34 seats, with leader Jüri Ratas having received twice the number of votes as Reform's Kaja Kallas, and yet the latter still went off to coalition talks with EKRE.

He also quoted two journalists, in the interests of impartiality. Editor-in-chief of Postimees' Russian-language portal, Olesja Lagašina was the first of these.

Centre in coalition hinges on Russian vote

''How hard did you [the Centre Party] protest when Estonia 200 displayed its provocative election posters? Yet now you are ready to work with those who would make this hypothetical situation a reality?'' She had opined.

The quote refers to an ad campaign by Estonia 200 in January, where posters at a central Tallinn tram stop read ''Estonians here'' and ''Russians here'', in both languages. The ad campaign was intended to satirise an apartheid scheme along such lines, not promote it. However, in Ms Lagašina's view, EKRE would actually like to go down that road and Centre, drawing as it does a lot of support from the Russian-speaking population (though less than it used to) is thus playing a dangerous game.

Mr Kaljulaid also noted that editor-in-chief of another Russian-language news portal, MK Estonia, had enumerated about a dozen Mps elected to the Riigikogu by the Russian vote, not only Centre stalwarts like Mihhail Kõlvart and Mihhail Korb, but also Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits of Isamaa, as well as Mr Kaljulaid himself.

If seven or more of MPs he noted stated that they would not collude with the EKRE-IKE coalition, that would push it below the 51-seat threshold for a parliamentary majority (the proposed coalition has 57 seats) and thus spell the end of the deal.

Mr Kaljulaid was careful to stress he was not calling for dissention in the ranks, however, and that he had left the board precisely to remove his dissenting voice.

The EKRE-KEI coalition would have 57 seats as things stand. A Reform-Centre coaltion would have 60, and a Reform-Isamaa-SDE coalition would have 56. Reform has repeatedly stated, in recent months, that it would not enter into office with EKRE.

Raimond Kaljulaid is the half-brother of President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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