The leader of the Center Party of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, voluntarily resigns as prime minister. The reason for this was a corruption scandal involving one of the prime minister’s party members. But the reasons for Ratas’ resignation are much deeper and more complicated than it first appears. His resignation is a trigger for the reformatting of Estonia’s entire political system, which is in a pre-crisis state.
The decision to vacate the post of prime minister was not made by Jüri Ratas himself. It was approved by the board of the Centre Party, whose members spent many hours the night before. Different options were considered. In the end, Ratas and company came to what they considered the only correct conclusion: the head of government can no longer be a representative of the Centrists.
The law enforcers have no claims against Ratas himself. Moreover, he is sure that his colleagues did not violate the law either.
But for moral and ethical reasons, the centrists decided to recall their prime minister.
“The suspicions of the prosecutor’s office, which have been made public today, do not mean that anyone is definitely guilty, but they inevitably cast a serious shadow over all those involved. In such a situation, it seems unequivocally right to resign to allow light to be shed on all the circumstances and to achieve clarity,” Ratas said.
The logic is clear, although it may seem strange to many Center Party voters (as well as outside observers). If Ratas is convinced of the innocence of his fellow party members, it would be more correct to continue. The outgoing prime minister is somehow likened to the former mayor of Riga, Nil Ushakov, who surrendered power in the Latvian capital on the wave of a corruption scandal.
In reality, everything falls into place when we consider that Ratas’s dismissal is not the goal of the centrists.
It is merely a trigger for a reset of the Estonian political system, which has been in a state of severe disarray.
The very fact that the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) became part of the ruling majority after the 2019 elections predetermined the political instability in the country. Its merger with the Centre Party seemed unnatural. Apparently, the senior coalition partners thought that the Conservatives would behave differently in their new status – they would learn good manners, refuse to use harsh language, be more loyal to sexual minorities, and so on.
No, they don’t! In power, the EKRE is still the same party of the violent right-wing minority, whose members are ashamed to shake hands in a “decent” society. In recent months it has provoked several major scandals.
We can recall how former Minister of the Interior of Estonia Mart Helme offered to move to Sweden all people of non-traditional sexual orientation. Then the same Helme and his son Martin, Minister of Finance and Chairman of EKRE, doubted the honesty of Joe Biden’s victory and called him a “corrupt punk”. Already after that, the collapse of the coalition seemed inevitable.
Otherwise, how else would Washington interact with the authorities of the Baltic republic, where a party whose leaders consider Biden an illegitimate president is in power?
A fresh “hit” of Estonian conservatives: they also consider the recent parliamentary elections in Lithuania to be dishonest. “What happened in the elections in Lithuania, for example, the last time: such a clearly transparent scheme of the deep state, which was put into action there and managed to push through there,” said Mart Helme.
Outside the coalition, Estonia’s political system is also very “stormy. The opposition Reform Party is trying with all its might to thwart a referendum on defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman (this was one of the key conditions for EKRE to join the coalition). To do this, they “bombard” the corresponding bill with provocative amendments.
One of them proposes to put to vote an additional question: “Would life in Estonia be better if the republic was a part of Russia?”
Another scandal broke out. The reformists have been accused of both violating their oath and the Constitution. “In my assessment, the prosecutor’s office should initiate criminal proceedings against members of the Reform Party, and, in my opinion, they should be deprived of immunity for the duration of the proceedings in any case,” says Martin Helme.
In the meantime, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid suggested linking the results of the referendum with the issue of trust in the Riigikogu: if most Estonians vote against the proposed definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the country will hold early parliamentary elections. Ratas criticized the idea and scolded the president for “actively interfering in current politics.
What’s happening in Estonia can’t be called a full-fledged political crisis yet. But it is obviously a pre-crisis state.
The system needs a “reset” to relieve the weight of accumulated contradictions. Ratas’s resignation sets this process in motion.
To understand how the situation will develop further, we need to consider the logic of the Center’s intentions. It was very clearly described by Jana Toom, a member of the Board of Directors of the party: the “centrists” are ready to be both in the coalition and in the opposition. The only thing they are not ready for is to remain the Prime Minister’s party.
This means that, in theory, the current coalition can remain in place. The centrists only need to hand over the post of the prime minister to one of the junior coalition partners – EKRE or Fatherland. But this will only increase the political turbulence in the country.
This leaves us with two options: the Center Party either creates a coalition with the Reformists or grants them the right to form a new majority (according to Jana Toom, this could include Fatherland and the Social Democrats).
Finally, it is not impossible that early parliamentary elections will take place in Estonia. Then the Baltic republic can expect a complete reset of power – within one year there will be parliamentary, local, and presidential elections. The latter, however, has little effect on anything.
Of course, the Party of Reforms wins from the dismissal of the prime minister. The initiative to form a new coalition and government now belongs to it. Even in the alliance with the centrists, they will play the first fiddle (since Ratas’s party voluntarily refuses to be the main political force in the country).
Just as importantly, the process of organizing a referendum on the definition of marriage has been derailed.
Ratas stated that the current coalition would no longer make major political decisions. And there is no room for EKRE in the new one.
Just a couple of days ago the author of these lines said that the “reformists” did not just clog up the referendum bill with absurd amendments. They were stalling, hoping that the coalition would break up soon. And so it turned out. One of the main intrigues of 2021 in the Baltics is no longer an intrigue: the unusual, but a tenacious alliance of Estonia’s “centrists” and conservatives is falling apart.