Speaking at the first press conference of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' second government on Thursday, Minister of the Interior and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme said that during the new ministers' swearing-in on Monday, President Kersti Kaljulaid acted like a woman incapable of keeping her emotions in check.
Helme was referring to Kaljulaid's behavior on Monday, when she left the Session Hall of the Riigikogu as now ex-Minister of Foreign Trade and IT Marti Kuusik (EKRE) was giving his oath of office.
According to Helme, after reading the article about Kuusik published by weekly investigative Eesti Ekspress, the Estonian president acted like a woman incapable of keeping her emotions in check.
"An emotionally fired-up woman can allow herself that," said the new minister. "But Kersti Kaljulaid isn't just a woman, but rather the President of the Republic. She reads one article, is so emotionally upset as a woman that she immediately passes judgment on the fly."
He stressed that Kaljulaid was incapable of exercising self-control, or if she was capable, then she expressed political bias, which is not compatible with the functions of her office. He then asked how such a person should be expected to act in a crisis situation, such as the outbreak of a conflict or natural disaster.
Helme also called Eesti Ekspress, the original public source of allegations of domestic violence against Kuusik, yellow journalism.
Ratas: President has right to act how she wants
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) added on his part that the president will act as she sees fit.
"How the president wanted to act during the swearing-in of the government is her right," he said.
Nonetheless, Ratas acknowledged that, after being briefed by the Estonian police and the Prosecutor's Office, he was sure that Kuusik's resignation on Tuesday was the right decision. "All in all, that which happened on Tuesday evening was the right solution," he commented.
He also affirmed that he fully trusts the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Prosecutor's Office, who launched a criminal investigation against Kuusik based on the information published by Eesti Ekspress.
"This is 100 percent trust in the PPA and the Prosecutor's Office," the head of government stessed.
Helme: We know the gossipers' names
According to Helme, EKRE has investigated Eesti Ekspress' sources in the Kuusik case for themselves.
"We have investigated these sources ourselves, and we have determined — we even know their names, actually — not via the police, but rather our own local party members..." he explained. "Rakvere is a small city; everyone knows who is spreading these rumors. A woman said something in a sauna — that isn't a legally competent argument."
Kuusik ended up in the center of a scandal earlier this week, when the media published claims of possible domestic violence committed by the newly sworn-in minister. In response to the domestic violence claims, the police on Monday launched a criminal investigation, in connection with which Kuusik resigned as minister on Tuesday, a day after he had been sworn into office.
Last week, it was also revealed that Kuusik had on March 4 been caught speeding and driving with trace amounts of alcohol in his system by the police.
Aab: Prime minister made 'uncomfortable' by Helme's remarks
Speaking on Thursday night's episode of ETV's "Ringvaade," Minister of Public Affairs Jaak Aab (Centre) admitted that coalition partners and the prime minister alike are made uncomfortable by Mart Helme's comments.
Politicians don't have to agree 100 percent with everything that the president does, Aab said. "And what happened at the Riigikogu was somewhat demonstrative," he conceded.
"But once again it does sound bad somehow, the way Mart [Helme] expresses this criticism," he continued. "He is not only criticizing the president, but also labeling all women as emotional like that. I certainly don't like that, and I don't condone it when target groups are disparaged based on their gender or race."
According to Aab, Helme has on several occasions made comments that are actually justified — such as criticizing the harassment of Kuusik's family in the scandal surrounding the latter — but the way Helme expresses himself leaves something to be desired.
"He says it in such a tone that quite a few societal groups feel bad," he said. "He knows how to say things in such a way that people feel uncomfortable."
Prime minister not responsible for ministers' comments
Nonetheless, Aab found that nobody can demand that either the Centre Party or the prime minister bear responsibility for how their coalition partners express themselves.
"The government includes the delegations of three parties on even terms — the Centre Party, EKRE and Isamaa," he explained. "If someone from among the coalition partners constantly has to comment on someone else's statements, and maybe even apologize, then that wouldn't be a very rational activity."
According to the Centre minister, however, Helme's comments are a source of discomfort. "I wouldn't say badly, outright, but coalition partners and also the prime minister do feel somewhat uncomfortable," he admitted. "This should be taken into account."
Editor: Aili Vahtla