The Estonian coalition government lost a no confidence vote on November 9, opening the way for the Centre Party, representing Estonia’s large Russian minority, to take over at the helm after more than a decade of Reform Party rule.
The rift in the rainbow coalition of the centrist Reform, social democrat SDE, and liberal IRL, began earlier in the week, when SDE and IRL said the Reform Party’s Prime Minister Taavi Roivas was no longer able to come up with solutions to stem emigration and revive the country's sluggish economic growth.
The following day, Roivas was facing opposition from five out of six parties in the parliament, which called on him to step down by November 9 or be humiliated by a no confidence vote.
Roivas refused to step down, saying the he would not "let Estonia take a left turn without a fight”, and was duly defeated in the vote by 63 MPs votes to 28.
Following the ousting of the Roivas cabinet, the parties are now set to meet for the first round of new coalition talks, which is to take place on the evening of November 9. A new government of the leftist Centre Party in coalition with SDE and IRL appears likely. A coalition featuring SDE and IRL with Centre would control 56 seats in the 101-seat parliament.
The Centre Party has recently revamped its leadership, replacing controversial veteran leader Edgar Saavisar with the younger and more liberal Juri Ratas, a move that appears to have precipitated the collapse of the cabinet.
The Centre Party is backed by Estonia’s Russian minority, which makes up around one quarter of the country’s 1.3mn population. The party was sidelined for years thanks to Savisaar's links to the Kremlin. Recent geopolitical tensions in the region only strengthened that isolation.
However, Ratas, a 38-year-old economist who was the Centre Party mayor of Tallinn, has sought to distance Centre from Moscow, a move that reportedly even made the beleaguered Roivas hold talks with the new party leader on potential co-operation.
At the same time, the likely members of the new coaltion with Centre insist that the new government will not significantly change Estonia’s pro-Western and pro-Nato course. IRL leader Margus Tsahkna said "the change of coalition will not affect Estonia's course on foreign and defence policy," according to AFP.
The potential formation of a new government is also an early test for the recently elected President Kersti Kaljulaid, an EU auditor until last month, who replaced the feisty Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Kaljulaid has been reported to hold talks with party leaders after the no confidence vote in order to “discuss the situation,” ERR reports.
The US-born Ilves worked tirelessly and effectively in recent years to warn of the dangers posed by Moscow's revived imperial ambitions. Nevertheless, the inexperienced new head of state now looks likely to be responsible for nominating the Centre Party to lead the next government.