Opinion: Centre and Isamaa warned EKRE

Toomas Sildam.
Toomas Sildam. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Those who sounded the death knell for Jüri Ratas' second government jumped the gun. But those who consider the current government coalition of enduring may be fooling themselves and misleading others, writes journalist Toomas Sildam.

Their first 100 days [in government], which were up on Aug. 8, were marked by the Centre Party, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa coalition in a bit of a jittery mood. The politicians in power wanted to talk about their achievements, but something else was more exciting. Because cautious rumors had begun making their way into the media that the Reform Party and the Centre Party, the latter of which is tired of constantly offering explanations for language used by EKRE leaders, are holding talks.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre), for whom the government's reputation both within Estonia and among allies is important, is seeking a way out of the current coalition, it's being whispered in the desolate summer halls of politics.

Perhaps there was a grain of truth to this. Governments, as we know, collapse from the inside out, not the other way around.

It is true that in the opinion of several influential players in the Centre Party, which lost the elections but ultimately still hung onto the prime minister's seat, that a Reform-Centre coalition would have been better than the current coalition with EKRE and Isamaa. Just as there is no doubt that the Reform Party, which earned a decisive win in the March Riigikogu elections but nonetheless ended up in the opposition, wants back in the government.

These two desires have yet to meet. Many Centrists — especially in rural areas — are still more afraid of the Reform Party than of EKRE. And so Maaleht journalist Argo Ideon's diagnosis continues to apply, that Jüri Ratas' second government is broken nearly everywhere that doesn't involve keeping the Reform Party out of power, and that the Centre Party, EKRE and Isamaa are each working separately in their own rooms, which they retained according to their initial agreement, each building their own acceptable state in their own corner.

And yet it appears as though EKRE's leadership began fearing for the first time in the past 100 days that Ratas may indeed completely overhaul this government.

And not just Ratas. Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder compared the sharp and belligerent language used by EKRE leaders to flashers running on soccer fields, noting that the latters' goal isn't to influence the course, end result or rules of the game, but rather just to get attention. Seeder believes that the Estonian media shouldn't encourage these political flashers, as even in the case of soccer, if a flasher crashes the field, in order to discourage them, the cameras are turned away and they aren't shown.

It's difficult to turn the cameras away from the Minister of the Interior, for example, however, or the President of the Riigikogu, the Minister of Finance or an Estonian MEP, and not cover what they say. But Seeder demonstrated the opinion of the third party in the coalition with his forthright description.

EKRE reins it in ⁠— for now

The leaders of the Centre Party and Isamaa may have had one logical wish: to issue a warning to put an end to this situation in which EKRE with its leaders' statements dominates over its coalition partners, wears their credibility thin and even the government's constructive decisions are buried in the muck of extremist-populist words.

And EKRE leaders did respond to all of this by reining it in. At least for now; at least, for example, when talking about climate-related topics during the Opinion Festival parliamentary party chairpersons' debate. At the same time, they have previously stated that they wouldn't go soft or start holding their tongues in the government. We'll see.

In any case, this Aug. 20, on the 28th anniversary of the restoration of Estonia's independence, Jüri Ratas can also celebrate his 1,000th day as prime minister. With a Jüriratasesque politeness with regard to his coalition partners, he predicted that the current government would last through spring 2023, until the next Riigikogu elections. Ratas may indeed be in the coalition for that long; that is fairly likely. But whether that is in the exact current government coalition is another matter entirely.

Of course Jüri Ratas is right that Estonia is a parliamentary state in which the people decide in elections which parties make it into the Riigikogu and to what extent. But being elected to parliament doesn't grant anyone a free ticket to the government. A coalition is born based on parliament mathematics, according to which a ruling coalition must have at least 51 votes — ideally more, of course — and, secondly, need common principles and values.

If the math is there, but there are no common principles, or these principles are lost, then ultimately there is nothing permanent about making it into the government or the government itself persisting.

Or, to quote Jüri Ratas: "Political competition establishes who is capable of competing with the coalition and who with the opposition."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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