«I do not know whether I will still be minister»

The ministers of the government of Kaja Kallas. PHOTO: Madis Veltman

All government ministers with the exception of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna plan to run in the October local government council elections. Of the 13 ministers running in the elections, none plan to take up a seat on their local council.

The Government of the Republic Act stipulates that a member of the government cannot hold any other elected or appointed office or work based on an employment or services contract, with educational and pedagogical work the only exceptions. In other words, one cannot serve as minister and participate in the work of the local council at the same time.

However, the law does not keep ministers from running in local elections. Taking up a seat on the council would, however, require one to quit the government.

Only Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (both Reform) have decided not to run. It is not customary for the PM to participate in the locals, while Kersna does not want to take on additional workload.

“I remain a realist in terms of my capabilities – I cannot run the field of education in the coronavirus crisis while also campaigning in the local elections. Besides, I only got 50 votes in the city of Võru at the previous local elections to suggest that the voter does not see me in local politics,” the education minister said.

Ministers not likely to give up portfolio

The remaining 13 cabinet ministers will participate in the local elections campaign over the next five weeks. Broadly speaking, ministers can be separated into four groups: 1) Those who admit they are there to support the party; 2) those who aim to secure a backup position should ministerial work run its course; 3) those who top their district’s election list and plan to become mayors in case of elections victory; 4) those who haven’t yet decided what to do if elected.

Four ministers admit running for the benefit of the party: Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center), Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center), Minister of Justice Maris Lauri (Reform) and Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform).

Kiik makes no secret of the fact he is running to support Mihhail Kõlvart’s city government. “It is also one of the reasons I am running as number two, because I cannot participate in the work of the city council and serve as minister at the same time. But I am helping the party as far as it is possible next to managing the crisis, on weekends and weekday nights,” the health minister said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets, who recently joined the Center Party and for whom these are the first elections, is running in Tallinn’s Kristiine borough. “I am running to support the Center Party’s strong program and ideas. However, as government ministers are not allowed to also work on local councils, I will continue in the former capacity,” Liimets said.

Minister of Justice Maris Lauri wants to help other candidates. “I am running for the benefit of our team and to highlight other people on our list who are perhaps not as well-known.”

Signe Riisalo said that a person can contribute to the development of the capital without a council seat. “I am one of the authors of the platform’s social affairs portion, which is something I aim to promote even without an official capacity because I want to promote social welfare in Tallinn. That is why I deem it sensible to contribute to the elections process,” the social protection minister explained.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab and Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (both Center) are the only ministers to top the election list in their district. Aab is candidate for mayor in Viljandi and Ott in Võru.

“Should the people place their trust in us and should a coalition prove possible, I am prepared to server as mayor. I have two home cities – Viljandi and Võhma. Tallinn has never really felt like home,” Jaak Aab said.

Trust from voters obligates

It might just happen that Center will have to find a new culture minister in October. “Voters’ trust would obligate me to take responsibility, and I am ready to assume the office of mayor. The city of Võru means a great deal to me. After all, it is my home city,” Anneli Ott said.

Minister of the Environment Tõnis Mölder, running in Pirita, and Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani, running in Saue, (both Center) do not have a set plan at this time.

Mölder is convinced that a lot can change in the time left until elections. Mölder has not decided on a single course of action. “I do not know whether I will still be a member of the government on the morning of October 18. The decision will be put to me if I am still minister and if I’m elected to the city council,” the minister said.

Kristian Jaani said that the office of minister and the situation in the world necessitate living one day at a time. “The elections are more than four weeks away, and we are concentrating on the process and not what happens after the results are in,” he commented. “As I said, I am taking things one day at a time, without looking too far ahead.”

Most ministers looking for soft political landing

Ministers who are running to secure an alternative post should their ministerial authority run its course number the most. Those given a mandate at local elections will freeze their powers and bring in an alternate council member. If the person does not have a ministerial position after the March Riigikogu elections, they can then assume their local council seat.

That is the reason given by Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt, Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (all Reform) and Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center).

“No one knows whether I will be elected or even run in the 2023 Riigikogu elections. Nothing is set in stone, while this will leave me with the opportunity of participating in the work of the Saaremaa Municipality council,” Laanet said.

Andres Sutt pointed out that a city councilman’s mandate would last him longer than a minister’s. “I have never said I do not plan to go. I am running because it matters to me, as a citizen of Tallinn, how the city develops and what choices we end up making here,” the enterprise and IT minister said.

Keit Pentus-Rosimannus pointed out that there will be no other opportunity for joining the city council. “I am running to be able to work in the city council after my ministerial mandate ends in March 23. The local elections period means I will not be able to run again later.”

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