Center Party to form new government

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Photo: Sander Ilvest

The Center Party will be a part of the next government – this much is for certain today. Whether the race for a new government will be won by the Reform Party or Pro Patria (IRL) and the social democrats (SDE) together will become clear in the coming days.

While proposals by the two minority coalition parties for Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas to resign yesterday evening might suggest that a new coalition with the centrists has already been negotiated, things remain more complicated than that. Why?

Because the collapse of Rõivas' second government was obvious to both SDE and IRL already by yesterday morning – Sunday night, even. Members of both parties claim the reformists had already launched talks for a new government with the Center Party on Sunday.

It is claimed that the centrists' recently elected board was invited to participate in a plan that would give one side eight ministerial positions, and the other seven, while Riigikogu committee chairmanships would be divided equally – everything else would be open to negotiations. The version of events was rendered more serious by the deal being proposed by a minister and few committee chairmen.

Reform Party denies talks

Rumor has it the deal was proposed by Kristen Michal, Kalle Laanet, Deniss Boroditš, and Ain Seppik. “Even though I fit in that picture very well, it remains a ludicrous claim,” Laanet said. Michal also told Postimees that the Reform Party is not involved in dismantling its own government.

There is also the Reform Party's version of events, according to which cooperation between IRL and SDE to tear down the government started already in late September. First of all it was decided to have Kersti Kaljulaid as president. Next the two minority coalition partners agreed to send Juhan Parts to the European Court of Auditors. After that came Margus Tsahkna's (IRL chairman – ed.) speech at the IRL council meeting in which he described the Reform Party as an engine of stagnation.

Finally there came the decision to recall Reform Party MPs from supervisory boards of state companies. This created a clear crisis in the coalition. The Reform Party believes it was all part of the plan to dismantle the government from the beginning.

The current situation probably leaves the Center Party feeling strongest as it now has its pick of partners and the opportunity to hear what they have to offer. Striking a deal with the Reform Party would probably rob them of the prime minister's position, while a coalition with IRL and SDE would make chairman Jüri Ratas the next prime minister.

The situation is most confusing for the Reform Party that has ruled Estonia for the past 17 years and has become used to being the one switching partners. They have to choose whether to give Center more than IRL and SDE are willing to to maintain the prime minister's seat, or sit back and look on as the three parties form the next government.

The situation of IRL and SDE is similar and different at the same time. On the one hand, the parties depend on each other to a rather serious degree as parliament arithmetic suggests they can either be together in the government or together in the opposition as governments with an extensive mandate or uncertain partners remain unrealistic.

IRL over the barrel no matter what

However, IRL definitely holds one of the keys to the new government as they have never cooperated with the Center Party in the past and are for most voters everything the Center Party is not and vice versa. Considering the party's modest support rating, yesterday's decision might have been fatal for them whichever way things go.

Replies from inside the party suggest, however, that waiting for the Reform Party to propose to the centrists might also have been fatal. “One thing is for certain, they would have formed that government no matter what,” one IRL member said yesterday.

The social democrats have been open to forming a new government with the centrists from last summer. Recent obstacles on that path included opposition from IRL and Edgar Savisaar as Center's chairman. Both have now been cleared. SDE definitely remains closest to the Center Party in terms of political ideas.

Whichever option materializes in the end, it is clear that the past few days have been of groundbreaking importance in Estonian politics. On the one hand, we are witnessing the end of the Reform Party's hegemony, while on the other Edgar Savisaar has been removed from the head of the Center Party, even though he surely has some say in terms of the new coalition with the help of some Center Party MPs.