New government brings gender balance

Meinhard Pulk
, reporter
The Reform Party and Center Party presented their ministerial candidates for Kaja Kallas’ government on Sunday morning.
The Reform Party and Center Party presented their ministerial candidates for Kaja Kallas’ government on Sunday morning. Photo: Madis Veltman

The Reform Party and Center Party presented their ministerial candidates for Kaja Kallas’ government on Sunday morning. Seven of the new government’s 15 ministers are women and Estonia’s most gender balanced cabinet is no coincidence, political scientist Tõnis Saarts believes.

Incoming Prime Minister Kaja Kallas admitted aiming for gender balance. “I tried to strike a balance between different criteria. Gender balance matters to me as our ranks include a lot of capable women. It is also important for the new government to have both experienced and fresh members.”

A lot of new faces

Indeed, the incoming cabinet has quite a few new faces, with Kallas and six other ministers having no prior government experience. “Looking at choice of ministers, we need to keep in mind looming local government council elections. Bringing in new people allows both parties to expand their gallery of potential candidates, while freeing veteran politicians up to primarily pursue election campaigns,” Saarts explained.

Center also introduced people with no prior involvement in politics, while the step could be seen as a forced move to some extent. Interior and foreign affairs portfolios Center secured during coalition talks were in risk of becoming controversial in light of the party’s recent corruption scandal and past actions. That is why it was only sensible to man these positions with people from outside party politics, Saarts finds. Northern Police Prefect Kristian Jaani will become interior minister and Estonian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Eva-Maria Liimets the new foreign minister.

Center Party chairman put the proposal to Jaani this weekend. “I did not have a lot of time to mull it over and becoming the interior minister candidate of a party currently under criminal investigation for corruption offenses as a police officer gave me a lot to think about,” Jaani said, adding that he was assured fighting corruption is a high priority for Center. “It helped ease my mind,” he said.

Center lost the education portfolio to Reform, which Saarts said the latter coveted because switching to a universal Estonian-language education system has long been a priority for the party. “It is clear that had the portfolio landed in the lap of a veteran Centrist, this particular government priority would have looked less sincere.”

“Taking charge of one of the best education systems in Europe and indeed the world is a great responsibility where one needs to keep a cool head,” incoming Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) said.

Moving away from Ansip and Ratas

Several meritorious former ministers of the Reform Party were left out of the government this time around, including Jürgen Ligi, Kristen Michal and Hanno Pevkur. What could that be an indication of regarding the inner workings of the Reform Party?

“It seems to me that both parties wanted to send a signal of starting from a clean slate, which is why as many new faces as possible were introduced,” Saarts said.

“I’m sure they wanted to avoid Center’s side of the new government’s group photo looking exactly the same as before and Reform’s mirroring the fourth cabinet of Andrus Ansip. However, the in-house climate at Reform and why so many veterans were sidelined makes for a good question.  It is clear that none of the three Reform veterans mentioned were among Kaja Kallas’ most devoted allies during different periods.”

Some ministerial assignments will also be reshuffled. The post of population minister will be abolished, while the social domain will be divided between the healthcare and labor and social protection ministers. The former assignment will go to current Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) and the latter to Signe Riisalo (Reform).

Incoming Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik said that the social ministry’s administrative area is so vast it could easily accommodate three or four ministers. We had no differences there and rather discussed who would be in charge of which fields,” he said.

The new coalition agreement could be described as decidedly vague. The sides said they understand that the political and social air is tense in Estonia and will do everything in their power to create broader political trust and promote cooperation to further life in Estonia.

Kaja Kallas said that the government is set to convene for the first time on Tuesday to discuss the coronavirus crisis. “If I am given a mandate on Monday, work will commence on Tuesday. There is no time for a breather,” the incoming PM said.

Ministers in Kaja Kallas’ government

  • Prime Minister – Kaja Kallas (Reform)
  • Minister of Finance – Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform)
  • Minister of Internal Affairs – Kristian Jaani (Center)
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs – Eva-Maria Liimets (independent, for Center)
  • Minister of Defense – Kalle Laanet (Reform)
  • Minister of Rural Affairs – Urmas Kruuse (Reform)
  • Minister of the Environment – Tõnis Mölder (Center)
  • Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure – Taavi Aas (Center)
  • Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology – Andres Sutt (Reform)
  • Minister of Justice – Maris Lauri (Reform)
  • Minister of Public Administration – Jaak Aab (Center)
  • Minister of Health and Labor – Tanel Kiik (Center)
  • Minister of Education and Research – Liina Kersna (Reform)
  • Minister of Social Protection – Signe Riisalo (Reform)
  • Minister of Culture – Anneli Ott (Center)