Prime minister, Centre, squirming a bit over Helme remarks, says minister

Jaak Aab on Ringvaade Thursday evening.
Jaak Aab on Ringvaade Thursday evening. Source: ERR

Public administration minister Jaak Aab (Centre) said on Thursday evening that remarks made by interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) have made both Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) and other coalition partners feel uncomfortable.

At the regular government press conference Thursday, the first which comprised leaders from the newly sworn-in coalition of Centre, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, Helme said that President Kersti Kaljulaid's actions at the ministers' oath-taking ceremony at the Riigikogu Monday were those of an ''emotionally fired-up woman''.

President Kaljulaid appeared at the ceremony donning a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words ''Sõna on vaba'' (''speech is free'' or, more literally, ''the word is free''), an oblique reference to comments made about the media by Helme and other members of his party in recent weeks.

When it was the turn of incoming IT minister Marti Kuusik (EKRE) to sign his oath, the president vacated the chamber, leaving him to make the customary salutation to an empty chair. Allegations that Kuusik had been involved in domestic violence surfaced soon after the president signed-off on the coalition last week. While Kuusik denied the claims, he stepped down Tuesday evening, citing a need to protect his family, the party, and the new coalition.

The case is now the subject of a police investigation.

Appearing on ETV current affairs show Ringvaade Thursday evening, Jaak Aab said that whilst politicians were under no obligation to go along 100 percent with everything the president might say, Helme's words at the press conference went far beyond that.

''What happened in the Riigikogu may have been a little demonstrative. But something sounds a bit off with Mart making this level of criticism. He didn't just criticize the president, but tagged all women with the generalization that they are 'over-emotional'. I certainly disapprove of that and the targeting of groups in society on the basis of gender or race,'' Aab said on the show.

The minister went on to add that, whilst Helme says some things which he viewed as justifiable – such as criticism of Marti Kuusik's family, rather than Kuusik himself – his way of expressing his views is unacceptable.

''He puts things in a way that make some groups in society feel bad. He says things straight off the bat that make people feel uncomfortable,'' Aab went on.

Nonetheless, Aab said, the prime minister and the Centre Party cannot step into some kind of policing role.

''The government comprises three parties on an equal footing – Center, EKRE, and Isamaa. It one of the coalition partners was perpetually having to comment on the actions and words of another, possibly even apologizing on their behalf in the process, this is not a very workable state of affairs,'' he continued.

Mart Helme also described the whole Kuusik saga as a ''witch hunt'', which went against the established legal norm of presumed innocence until proven guilt.

The original Ringvaade excerpt (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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