Opposition members back presidential calls for graciousness in politics

Riiina Sikkut (SDE), a member of one of the two opposition parties, following the 3 March election and subsequent formation of the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition.
Riiina Sikkut (SDE), a member of one of the two opposition parties, following the 3 March election and subsequent formation of the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition. Source: ERR

Leading members of the two opposition parties, Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) have expressed open or implied support for President Kersti Kaljulaid's call for an avoidance of incidents of hate speech, as the fledgling new coalition takes office.

''The Social Democratic Party welcomes the President's suggestion,'' outgoing health minister Riina Sikkut (SDE) told ERR's Estonian news on Thursday.

President Kaljulaid took the opportunity during her speech welcoming the new coalition, consisting of the Centre Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, to call for 100 ''hate free'' days, interpreted in the media as a reaction to various incidents which characterised the election campaign and subsequent government formation.

While the president, in her role as head of state, did not name any names, ERR's Toomas Sildam pointed out on current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera that this was directed at EKRE.

President Kaljulaid had in fact previously criticised statements made by a leading EKRE MP and now finance minister, Martin Helme. In March, Mr Helme had stated an opinion that doctors in Estonia violated the Hippocratic oath when performing the around 4,500 abortions carried out in the country each year. Prime minister Jüri Ratas also echoed the president's remarks at the time, issuing an apology to all gynaecologists and women who had been offended by the remarks on his social media page.

The issue has raised questions of the president's role in the formation of government – she appoints a prime ministerial candidate on the basis of election results, but the candidate and his or her proposed cabinet has to be voted into office by the Riigikogu. President Kaljulaid's first candidate, Kaja Kallas (Reform) was unable to amass enough Riigikogu votes for her party to enter into office with SDE, even though Reform had won the largest number of seats of any party at the 3 March election. Consequently, the president invited Jüri Ratas (Centre), the outgoing prime minister who was well into coalition negotiations with EKRE and Isamaa by mid-April when the Riigikogu votes took place, to form a government, and this lineup passed the parliamentary vote just a day after Ms Kallas had been rejected.

''We will take the first step and carry out a hundred days hate-free,'' Riina Sikkut, whose party is now in opposition together with Reform, continued.

''My hope is things will normalise, though there have been a lot of divisive statements in recent times,'' she continued, adding that she saw the requirement as applying to all political parties in equal measure.

Reform MEP's view

Meanwhile, sitting Reform MEP and candidate in May's European elections Urmas Paet said that taking an idealistic approach need not necessitate making cavalier statements.

''The fact that people have different views both on what happens in the present and in the future need not mean that this should be done in a malicious or angry manner,'' he told ERR.

''Disputes, debates and discussions should focus on content, rather than the nature or personal qualities of those involved, still less become a slanging match,'' he continued.

Nevertheless, Mr Paet did not feel that Mr Ratas and his government should be given a 100-day ''bye'' and be above criticism, not least because Mr Ratas, the Centre Party, and Isamaa, are not newcomers to office, having been there for over two years as noted.

''Therefore, when there is cause for criticism, this should happen. A hundred days is too long for any unwise actions or mistakes to pass by without comment and without offering solutions. That said, I agree this doesn't have to go through a negative filter,'' he went on.

Urmas Paet is a former foreign minister and has been an MEP since 2014, sitting with the ALDE political group. Riina Sikkut was elected to the XIV Riigikogu, for the first time. She was made a minister in May 2018 to replace SDE leader Jevgeni Ossinovski, having come from a civil service background.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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