Incoming foreign trade and IT minister Marti Kuusik (EKRE) will not be able to take up his post, should allegations about acts of domestic violence on his part prove true, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said on Monday evening, BNS reports.
Making his remarks, Ratas said that he had already been in contact with both Kuusik and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Mart Helme on the matter, BNS stated, quoting daily Postimees.
"If these allegations prove to be somehow true, such a minister cannot work in the government. I have asked if there have been any incidents of close relationship violence or family violence within his family circle; he has told me that there hasn't," Ratas said.
On the eve of the new coalition being signed into existence last week, it came to light in the media that Kuusik had been stopped by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) on the morning after the March 3 general election after being clocked speeding over 20 km/h in excess of the speed limit, in a 50 km/h zone, in the town of Rakvere. A subsequent breath test showed Kuusik had trace amounts of alcohol in his system. The latter fact, Kuusik admitted to in an interview with ERR's Toomas Sildam, but said nothing about why he had been initially stopped. This was reported on BNS subsequently.
"He gave me his word … he looked me in the eye and said that there had been no such incidents [of domestic violence]. I have also asked the police to inform me if any relevant applications or proceedings have been made by the family in the past. The response has been that there haven't. I have no further information,'' Ratas continued, adding that domestic violence was not tolerated in Estonian society.
Jüri Ratas also told ERR on Tuesday morning that the law as it stands does not permit the postponing of Kuusik's appointment any further.
Speaking on morning magazine show Terevisioon, Ratas said that while he had started to look into the allegations once they had come to light, including the possibility of postponing Kuusik's appointment, it became clear that there was no provision for this under Estonia law.
Presidential and opposition response
President Kersti Kaljulaid made her stance on the matter plain during the swearing in of the new Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition, leaving the chamber when it was Marti Kuusik's turn to come up to sign the oath. This would customarily be followed by a gesture towards the president, which in Kuusik's case, he was making to an empty chair. The president, who was also wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo ''Sõna on vaba'', variously translated as ''speech is free'' or ''the word is free'', returned to her seat in time for the next minister's swearing in procedure.
Opposition leader Kaja Kallas (Reform) noted the unsuitability of anyone in office who had been involved in domestic violence, criticizing Jüri Ratas for not taking a firmer stance in the process.
Marti Kuusik taking his oath before the Riigikogu on Monday afternoon. Ordinarily, the president would have been seated on the dais behind him at this point. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR
"The prime minister and the president obviously have more information than everybody else ... reading about this specific case in the media," Kallas said in a social media post, BNS reports.
"If Jüri Ratas were really the prime minister of this government, he would say that there is no place for a person like this to serve as a minister in his government ... Whereas, in fact, the government is led by someone else whose word carries a larger weight, the new minister is able to continue despite new actions demonstrating his unsuitability coming to light," she continued, an oblique reference to EKRE leader Mart Helme as holding the cards in the new coalition, in her view.
In the lead up to the March 3 election, several of the main political parties were found to have hundreds of members on their lists who had extant criminal records; Centre expelled 14 members, of around 300 with records; EKRE was found to have about 200 members with extant records, Reform about 400.
Rumours about the domestic violence incidents involving Marti Kuusik started circulating in the Estonian media around the same time as the driving infringements came to light, ie. last week, with the original source not named.
Editor: Andrew Whyte