Prosecutor general reappointment at centre of latest government rift

Justice Minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa), at right.
Justice Minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa), at right. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) has stood by sitting prosecutor general Lavly Perling, and wants to submit her candidacy for reappointment to the role. This has led to a split in the ruling coalition government, as the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) opposes Perling continuing in the role. At the same time, something of a game of pass-the-parcel has recently emerged, with Aeg saying consensus was needed, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) saying that it was the justice minister's decision to make (i.e. Aeg's) and Aeg in turn saying it wasn't for him to say whether the matter should be put to a vote.

EKRE, the party which effectively caused the split, has not put up an alternative candidate, saying that the post is up to the justice minister, i.e. Aeg.

"Finding a candidate is first and foremost the task of the minister of justice," Minister of Finance and EKRE deputy chairman Martin Helme said, according to BNS, though noting that Aeg should put forward a candidate all three coalition parties could get behind, which in Perling's case was a non-starter.

"We won't agree to [Perling's reappointment], and that won't change," Helme said.

For his part, Raivo Aeg said compromise was the aim.

"The government's work entails many things which have not been included in the coalition agreement and on which parties may develop contrasting positions; however, it would nonetheless be reasonable to find a solution and achieve an agreement in the end. Otherwise, the government will not be operational," Aeg said, according to BNS.

Aeg also said that EKRE's main argument against Perling as prosecutor general, that she is married to the Deputy Director General of the Internal Security Service (ISS) was not relevant.

"I remain convinced that she has done her job well and wholeheartedly, and has implemented several crucial updates," Aeg said, citing improvements to procedure speeds, victim protection and the handling of cases involving minors as examples.

"There is no reason to start experimenting to see if anyone else could do any better. Perhaps they would, but equally they might not," Aeg continued.

The post is for a five year term, and the Centre Party also backs Perling continuing in the role.

Aeg highlighted that in good democratic practice the minority takes into account the wishes of the majority, when referring to the stalemate. When asked if this means that Perling's candidacy could be put to a vote in the government, Aeg said that the decision was not his to make.

"The government is led by the prime minister, and the prime minister said at the government's first sitting that he aims to reach all decisions by consensus," Aeg said.

Decision ultimately down to the justice minister

Centre is the senior coalition party with 25 seats, but it does not have a majority in the coalition, since EKRE has 19 seats and Isamaa 12. The 15 ministerial posts, excluding the prime minister himself, are divided equally between the three parties.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that the work is ongoing, adding that under the law, the proposed candidate is up to the justice minister.

"This is not a a head-on collision of divergent world views, it's an administrative decision," Raivo Aeg added.

According to daily Postimees, the impasse needs to be resolved soon, with the state budge due near the end of the month, and election promises such as an extraordinary pensions hike and wage rises for teachers needing addressing.

The matter is likely to be resolved within the next two weeks, however, according to Postimees, citing the justice minister.

"As soon as the state budget [bill] is handed over to the Riigikogu at the end of September, we'll need to move forward on other important issues," Raivo Aeg added.

A further deadline is imposed by Perling's current term date finish, due on Oct. 31.

This latest division follows a split in the government in August, again precipitated by EKRE, who, via the two Helmes, Martin, and his father, interior minister Mart, unilaterally called for the removal of the Police and Border Guard Board chief, Elmar Vaher.

A split in the last coalition, which included Isamaa but not EKRE, took place in late 2018 on the issue of the UN's global migration compact. EKRE, which came into office at the end of April, had been seen by many as pulling some of the strings on that split, with Isamaa, which opposed Estonia consenting to the compact, seen as the stalking horse. The split meant President Kersti Kaljulaid was unable to travel to Marrakech, Morocco, where the compact received its consent.

The Prosecutor's Office, headed up by the Prosecutor General, directs pre-trial criminal proceedings, ensuring their lawfulness and effectiveness, represents public prosecution in court, participates in planning surveillance activities necessary for the prevention and identification of crimes, among other tasks, according to its website, and falls under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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