Closure on coalition talks within next week, say Ratas and Seeder

Centre chairman Jüri Ratas (left) and Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Centre chairman Jüri Ratas (left) and Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder. Source: ERR

Closure on the ongoing governmental talks between the Centre Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), and Isamaa, could come within the next few days, says Centre leader and incumbent prime minister Jüri Ratas.

Mr Ratas said at the regular Thursday morning government press conference that it should be clear within a week at the latest whether the three parties have the will to move forward with establishing a coalition, according to BNS.

The XIV Riigikogu is due to convene for the first time on Thursday, 4 April, which serves to concentrate minds. One of the Riigikogu's first tasks is to vote on the proposed coalition government, ie. If an agreement is made, all elected MPs vote on whether it should go ahead or not. An EKRE-KEI lineup would have a majority of 57 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu, and thus would make up the government if the MPs from all three parties voted in its favour.

Isamaa leader, Helir-Valdor Seeder, concurred, noting that an agreement before next Thursday would be ideal.

"The signing-off of the coalition accord will be left for next week. I cannot say on what day exactly, but in the ideal case before next Thursday, which in great probability is the day the Riigikogu will convene," Mr Seder told ERR's Estonian news on Thursday.

Mr Seeder added that key positions would ideally be allotted by that time as well. The speaker of the house and his or her deputies is also elected at the opening of the session; if the prime ministerial role went to Jüri Ratas, it is likely the speaker's post would be offered to an EKRE or possibly Isamaa MP.

Who the speaker might be, Mr Seeder was unable to comment; some media reports have linked EKRE MP Henn Põlluaas to the role, though the latter has neither confirmed nor denied his likely candidacy.

Isamaa leader's view

Mr Seeder added that significant progress had been made in the coalition talks, which entered their third week this week, without elaborating.

Moreover the three parties have agreed not to reveal smaller agreements made between them ahead of an overall unveiling of their accord, should it come to pass.

The Reform Party, which won the highest number of seats on 3 March, has been left out in the cold since then, having been rebuffed by Centre and stating that it would not work with EKRE. It has been making noises, at least via its leader Kaja Kallas, that it might consider giving the prime ministerial role to the Centre leader in a bi-partisan coalition with the latter.

The only other party to be elected, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) is only on 10 seats, which makes it the least appealing of the five parties so far as numbers go. It has also expressed a (mutual) rejection of working with EKRE.

Ultimately, Centre, and to a certain extent Isamaa, have alternative options, as things stand at present. The EKRE-KEI coalition as noted would have 57 seats. A Reform-Centre ''super-coalition'' would have 60. A Reform-Isamaa-SDE coalition would have 56. No other combination could exceed the 51 seats needed for a majority in the Riigikogu, unless Reform breaks its resolve on not working with EKRE, or SDE and EKRE somehow patched things up.

A Centre MPs' rebellion on the vote would prevent the alignment making it into office.

The Riigikogu's reconvening could be postponed by a short time, reportedly not more than a day, however.

Public fatigue with the talks seems to have set in as well. According to a recent Kantar Emor poll, close to 60% of the electorate finds the course of the talks to be unsatisfactory and, whereas nearly 90% of EKRE supporters are happy with their party's conduct in the talks, only around 40% of both Centre and Isamaa supporters are satisfied.

Centre MP Raimond Kaljulaid, the third-placed MP on 3 March, stepped down from the party board in protest at the talks, priniciaplly over the inclusion of the far-right EKRE, and the public has been picketing the Stenbock House, scene of the talks, every morning this week, albeit in small numbers. EKRE leaders Mart and Martin Helme have warned of repercussions in the form of public disorder, should EKRE find itself ousted from the table.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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