EKRE MP confirms speaker candidacy, buries hatchet with Centre member

Henn Põlluaas, confirmed as EKRE's candidate for Riigikogu speaker.
Henn Põlluaas, confirmed as EKRE's candidate for Riigikogu speaker. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Henn Põlluaas, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP and vice chair, is to run as Riigikogu speaker, he confirmed to ERR's Estonian news on Tuesday. He also noted that a recent spat with Centre MP Martin Repinski was now water under the bridge.

''Since in these coalition discussions, it has been agreed that the prime minister should come from the largest party, the second largest party in the talks is to provide the speaker; my name has been put forward by EKRE and I fully go along with this,'' Mr Põlluaas said, continuing the custom that the house speaker should not come from the same party as the prime minister.

Of the three coalition parties, Centre is the largest in terms of seats, on 26, and EKRE is second in 18. Isamaa has 12. The Reform Party, which won the largest number of seats at the 3 March election (34) has been shut out of talks ever since; forming an alliance with the only other elected party, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) would still not bring sufficient seats for a parliamentary majority, since SDE only won 10 seats.

SDE has, however, put its own candidate for speaker up, outgoing foreign minister Sven Mikser. The speaker of the last Riigikogu session, Eiki Nestor, was also from SDE.

Speaker run-off against Sven Mikser

''Mikser can barely get enough votes there. I'm completely surprised that he's been put forward,'' said Mr Põlluaas of his rival for the role.

One of the first things the XIV Riigikogu will do, after it convenes on Thursday, 4 April, is to elect a speaker from the candidates put up. It also votes on whether the proposed coalition government can take office. With 57 seats in total at the 101-seat Riigikogu, the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition only needs a few dissenting voices for it not to become reality.

However, Mr Põlluaas said he believed there would be no issues with those members of Centre who have been reluctant about the proposed coalition.

''The negotiations have been successful and we have achieved a fairly good outcome, and they will soon be over. That is my belief,'' Mr Põlluaas said.

EKRE and Centre on even keel with each other

Centre members have been giving mixed messages about the potential union. Raimond Kaljulaid is the only prominent member to have so far expressed dissent, but a substantive opposition to the deal has not seemed to have crystallised around him.

On the other hand, Centre representative on the broadcasting supervisory council Marika Tuus-Laul expressed a degree of support for EKRE MP Martin Helme, son of chair Mart, in his demands that journalists at public broadcaster ERR be removed from the airwaves due to what he called bias.

While Mr Helme, who is the EKRE representative on the broadcasting council (each elected party has a member sitting on the council) named no names on making the remarks last week, Ms Tuus-Laul stated that two TV journalists, Johannes Tralla and Priit Kuusk, had been unnecessarily combative in their pre-election interviews with Centre leader Jüri Ratas, and MP Mihhail Kõlvart.

According to an Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) report (in Estonian) on Tuesday, Russian members of Centre have largely been quiet on the issue of a Centre-EKRE deal, principally due to lack of an alternative, an even greater dislike of the Reform party, and likely ''Russian-friendly'' stances by the proposed coalition on some issues.

Centre has traditionally drawn much of its voter support from the Russian-speaking contingent of the electorate, though this was notably down at the 3 March election, particularly in Ida-Viru County, due to low voter turnout.

War of words between Põlluaas and Repinski

Nonetheless and on a personal level, Mr Põlluaas had been involved in a war of words with Centre's Martin Repinski, due to take up a Riigikogu seat after a stint as mayor of Jõhvi municipality, though this has now blown over, both men say.

When Mr Repinksi dismissed a number of ethnic Estonian workers in the Jõhvi municipality towards the end of March, Mr Põlluaas made reference on his social media account to ethnic cleansing, in connection with the incident.

In response, Mr Repinski stated that: ''I think it might be more necessary to have a cleansing of those people who make such statements. Perhaps the seeming anti-hero of this member of parliament, Adolf Hitler, has carried out ethnic cleansing. However, I certainly do not think long such lines; I am a very liberal person''.

Mr Repinski has also said that he will take outgoing interior minister Katri Raik (SDE) to court over comments made about the Jõhvi municipality, which Mr Repinski said were slanderous. Ms Raik had pointed to what she said was funding of a non-profit by Jõhvi municipality, headed by a personal friend of Mr Repinski. Mr Repinski rejected the claims.

By Tuesday, however, the tussle between the potential EKRE Riigikogu speaker, and the incoming Centre MP, had started to simmer down, Mr Põlluaas said.

''I have not had any quarrel with Mr Repinski nor any kind of conversation. We have not even met. I did make a post on social media, and he made his own reply to a reporter, somewhere'', said Mr Põlluaas, adding that he deleted his post almost immediately after it was published.

''I only relied on some of the statements and articles in the media; I did not know the deeper content of these things, and thus I deleted the post immediately,'' he said.

Mr Repinski reciprocated, telling ERR on Tuesday that there wasn't much to the story.

''Politics happens in such a way that people criticize each other and I think it is certainly no obstacle to future cooperation," he said.

When asked about Mr Põlluaas chances of being made speaker when parliament reconvenes on Thursday, Mr Repinski was similarly placatory.

''When I support a coalition or council's decision, and that of the party, I will always vote as we have agreed, if it does not go against my conscience of course. I understand the question has arisen because Mr Põlluaas and I have not had the most pleasant exchange of words, but let's just say that he expressed himself emotionally, and I have also acted in a similar way, but this does not mean that we are in any sense enemies who cannot cooperate. It's certainly not like that,'' Mr Repinski said.

Martin Repinski was rural minister in Jüri Ratas original cabinet lineup, though for just two weeks, before resigning. According to a report in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress at the time, a company of his had presented a cheese product as being Estonian, where as at least some of its components were Dutch-made, it is reported.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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