Reps playing hide and seek with the people of Estonia

Mailis Reps. PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The Center Party on Tuesday discussed the investigation into misuse of official resources by former Education Minister Mailis Reps and decided that the party will need to elect a new Riigikogu group head. Reps will also not continue as Center’s deputy chairman.

The latest chapter in Reps’ embezzlement scandal that came to light on Sunday sent the Center Party into a state of shock for a few days. The party brass discussed the incident informally on Monday, while a party board meeting was held online on Tuesday. Reps did not participate.

After an hour’s deliberation, it was decided that Reps, who resigned from the post of education minister in November but still headed Center’s coalition talks team, needs to resign as the party’s Riigikogu group head and deputy chairman.

No new deputy chairman named

Mailis Reps is yet to comment on the board’s decision. Postimees tried to reach her at home but was told by the politician’s representative that Reps is not available for comment.

“Mailis does not want to see anyone right now. She is not in the mood…” a woman who was busying herself in the courtyard told journalists. Reps also failed to answer her phone.

Center Party leader Jüri Ratas said that MPs and the board decided that Reps needs to concentrate on defending herself in the investigation, and that the party can move forward after making difficult but necessary decisions.

“I would like to thank Mailis who has contributed greatly to Estonia’s development and the activities of the Center Party as a meritorious and capable politician, deputy chairman, Riigikogu faction head and minister,” Ratas said.

He did not name a new deputy chairman, while the new Riigikogu group head will be elected as soon as possible. The board has suggested electing Jaanus Karilaid as faction chair and Kersti Sarapuu and Andrei Korobeinik as deputy chairmen.

Jaanus Karilaid said that no member of the board was happy with the situation. “Organizing a birthday party entails paying for it, and all of these details and facts have taken members by surprise,” Karilaid said.

Reps not evicted

Enn Eesmaa said that Reps did not attend the virtual meeting. “Jüri Ratas has spoken to her on numerous occasions, including today (yesterday – ed.). I cannot speak for the others. I have not been in touch with her.”

“I would not go into detail. However, no one raised the issue of Reps continuing as a Center member. The consensus was that the two positions she is giving up are enough at least until the court rules,” Eesmaa said.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said that stripping Reps of the positions was a sensible and reasoned call. He added that Reps will not be thrown out of Center in the middle of a criminal investigation.

“Every person has the right to defend themselves against suspicions, both in the media and legally. And no party makes these decisions based on suspicions,” Kiik said.

Center MP Oudekki Loone said that Center’s Riigikogu delegates were present for the meeting, while she had no comment for Reps’ conduct. “Mailis Reps is still my fellow party member and I support my fellow Centrists,” Loone said, adding that she believes the party’s reputation is still good.

Loone said that Reps should be approached for details and suggested the journalist join Center in order to get in touch with her. “I can get a hold of her, perhaps she only talks to the party,” Loone suggested.

Reform Party deputy chairmen Jürgen Ligi and Keit Pentus-Rosimannus remained tight-lipped when commenting on their coalition partner’s decision.

“Rather, it was quite a strong move considering what has been a poor history. But this thing is not over. Official proceedings are ongoing and it is little use saying much more,” Ligi said, adding that behavior should not be the main focus of political debate.

Could Reps’ misuse of taxpayer money scandal affect Center’s support rating?

“I’m sure there are more important topics and arguments based on which voters support parties. I urge Center voters to evaluate our policy on the state and local government levels and make decisions based on that,” Tanel Kiik said.

“The voter looks at actions and what one does in politics. Center’s normal rating is 25-27 percent, meaning that something has happened which we need to address. I still see the party as capable of taking a convincing victory at October 17 local elections,” Jaanus Karilaid said.