Estonian parties tell PM jump or be pushed

Estonian parties tell PM jump or be pushed
Roivas has reacted bullishly to calls for him to step down, but he faces certain defeat in a parliamentary vote
By bne IntelliNews November 8, 2016

Five of the six parties in the Estonian parliament handed Prime Minister Taavi Roivas an ultimatum on November 8, calling on him to step down or be humiliated in a no-confidence vote the following day.

The leader of the Reform Party refused earlier in the day demands from his coalition partners to move aside. The ultimatum seals the fate of the rainbow coalition government headed by the Reform Party leader that split late on November 7. Estonia now appears destined for a new coalition led by the ethnic-Russian Centre Party.

"We are calling upon the prime minister to step down himself by 2 p.m. [on November 9] at the latest," the leaders of the five parties said in a joint statement. "Otherwise the head of government will be faced with five political parties' joint motion of no confidence, which is unprecedented. Estonia is a democratic state and it is time for the prime minister to recognize that the coalition has folded.”

That threat followed defiance from Roivas after an early morning Reform Party meeting. Insisting he would not "let Estonia take a left turn without a fight," the PM added that he wanted to "look members of the Riigikogu in the eye when they vote in favour," of such a move.

The collapse was sparked by calls from the Social Democrat Party (SDE) and nationalist conservative IRL. The junior coalition partners said they no longer believed Roivas has the necessary fresh ideas to deal with emigration and the economy. The five parties will have a comfortable majority in the 101-seat parliament to oust the staunchly pro-Western PM.

Unofficial talks are already underway on the formation of the next government. SDE and IRL have suggested they will join a new coalition led by Centre Party. The replacement of controversial veteran leader Edgar Savisaar by Juri Ratas on November 4 was a clear spark for the collapse of the current government. A coalition featuring SDE and IRL with Centre would control 56 seats.

The Centre Party is backed by Estonia’s Russian minority that 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 has sought to distance Centre from Moscow.

The effect has been so strong that even the beleaguered Roivas is reported to have talked with the new party leader. Reform has been at the centre of Estonian government since 1999.

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. 

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 Centre Party to lead the next government.