Ratas' government takes office

Tuuli Koch
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Chairman of the Center Party Jüri Ratas was given powers to form Estonia's next government with 53 votes after three hours of answering MPs' questions in the parliament yesterday.

Ratas pointed out a personal matter that made coalition talks difficult for him after the round of questions. “I'm saddened by the fact that we are one MP short today,” he said, referring to his father, Rein Ratas, who was kept from voting for his son's ascent to the prime minister's seat by an illness.

The new coalition of the Center Party, Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL), and the Social Democrat Party (SDE) has 56 seats in the Riigikogu. The new government was approved with 53 votes due to the absence, in addition to Rein Raud, of Mark Soosaar (SDE) and Center Party member Peeter Ernits abstaining from voting. The rest of the votes held.

In a situation where Center and the social democrats were quick to set up their ministers, clarity regarding IRL was achieved yesterday morning.

While coalition talks saw the participation of Riigikogu National Defense Committee chairman Marko Mihkelson, now set to chair the foreign affairs committee, perceived by many as having earned either the foreign or defense portfolio, things turned out differently, and IRL's defense portfolio will go to party chairman Margus Tsahkna.

Mihkelson said that the outcome is no tragedy nor holds any intrigue for him; however, voices from within the party suggest otherwise. There are those who find Tsahkna could have remained social minister or taken the finance portfolio instead. Current Minister of Finance Sven Sester announced that he definitely wants to continue, which is understandable at the time of putting the finishing touches on the state budget. Tsahkna definitely wanted to bring a woman into the government, and Kaia Iva's nomination as social protection minister serves the equality principle.

The Riigikogu will elect a new board the week after next, where Ratas' deputy chairman position will probably go to Center's Enn Eesmaa, with the other deputy chairmanship given to the oppositional Reform Party. This ousts IRL's Helir-Valdor Seeder, who was seen as a candidate for environment minister but eventually lost to current minister Marko Pomerants after the latter allegedly asked the party to give him one reason his should not stay on. Seeder will probably come to chair a Riigikogu committee.

Tsahkna and Mihkelson talked before IRL's managing committee meeting yesterday morning and again after decisions concerning ministerial positions had been made. Tsahkna said the men understand each other – the situation was one where the party chairman's absence from the government and transition to the Riigikogu, that was considered for a time, is not a good idea.

“We must reconcile the budget with the coalition agreement, meaning that we will have no time to settle in, especially as concerns matters financial and legal,” Tsahkna said. “I have managed the entire process in the party, so I don't have a so-called backroom; while I have advisers, all decisions and agreements have been public. We had a genuine discussion where everyone could have their say; however, we eventually agreed that the correct solution is one where we can take responsibility for our fields in the government right away.”

Tsahkna commended his professional team and said that while it is always difficult to allocate positions, there was no voting or horse-trading in the committee, and the decision was made in unison.

Change of government will probably bring to the parliament current Mayor of Sindi Marko Šorin, Nõmme borough elder Tiit Terik, Viljandi city government member Helmut Hallemaa, Deputy Mayor of Sillamäe Eevi Paasmäe, and Vinni Parish Elder Toomas Väinaste from the Center Party.

The social democrats' ministerial shuffle will open the doors of the parliament to Liisa Oviir, Hardi Volmer, Barbi-Jenny Pilvre-Storgard, and Kalev Kotkas.

The Reform Party's Riigikogu faction will be reinforced with recent ministers. Taavi Rõivas, Maris Lauri, Jürgen Ligi, Urmas Kruuse, Kristen Michal, Hanno Pevkur, and Arto Aas will all be returning to the parliament, ousting Andre Sepp, Rait Maruste, Kristjan Kõljalg, Mati Raidma, Vilja Toomast, Peep Aru, and Imre Sooäär.

President Kersti Kaljulaid expects the new composition of the government to meet her in Kadriorg at 4.30 p.m. today. The new government will take its oath of office in the Riigikogu and the President will release the current government from office tomorrow afternoon.