The recent coalition talks between the Centre Party, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, which lasted around three weeks, have led many to believe that this is a fait accompli, and the lineup will take office. In fact, this is not the case. Properly speaking, the official coalition talks are only starting from today.
Whilst the Reform Party got the largest number of seats at the general election on 3 March, with 34, it found itself shut out of coalition talks by Centre, led by Jüri Ratas, who went off to meet with EKRE and Isamaa. Reform on its own does not have enough seats to get the required minimum of 51 seats, in the 101-seat Riigikogu, to make a viable government. Even if it lined up with the Social Democratic Party (SDE) that would only make 44 seats, since SDE has 10 Riigikogu seats. Reform previously said it would not work with EKRE.
However, under the terms of the Estonian constitution, simply holding coalition talks which would have a majority (Centre/EKRE/Ismaa would have a total of 57 seats) is not enough to make it into office. First, the President, then the Riigikogu, need to be involved, as we will see.
Allar Jõks, lawyer and former former Chancellor of Justice and constitutional expert, points out that under § 78 (9) of the constitution, the president nominates the prime ministerial candidate. After this happens, there is a 14-day period, which starts from the day after the president makes her nomination, during which time this candidate is tasked with forming a government (§ 89 of the constitution).
According to ERR’s Estonian news portal, on Friday morning, President Kersti Kaljulaid tasked Kaja Kallas, leader of the Reform Party, with the role of forming a government as prime ministerial candidate.
Once a coalition lineup has been finalised, this has to be voted on at the Riigikogu – hence why coalitions generally need to have a majority of 51 seats or more, assuming all the MPs from the coalition parties vote in favour of the agreement.
If this proposed government received a majority vote at the Riigikogu, it will enter into office. If it is rejected within the 14-day period by the Riigikogu (or is unable to form a government for some other reason), the President is entitled to pick a second prime ministerial candidate, and the procedure with forming a government and this proposed government being voted on, is repeated. Second in line would most likely be Jüri Ratas (Centre).
If this second coalition lineup is rejected as well, the right of creating a new parliament goes to the Riigikogu, who should find a new candidate, whose coalition lineup can get a majority. They have a 14-day period within which to do this.
Finally, should this third, Riigikogu-selected candidate also fail to get a majority vote in parliament, the president will call an extraordinary election, in other words a second general election, and the process from Stage One above would need to be repeated.
At the time of writing, we are at the beginning of Stage One above. The Reform Party leader has to select her coalition lineup partner(s) and then this will be voted on at the Riigikogu, within 14 days, with the clock starting from Saturday.
According to ERR’s Estonian news, Ms Kallas has started her talks by approaching SDE. One interesting possible outcome is that there ends up a minority government – with just Reform and SDE together on 44 seats as noted. This could still pass into reality if enough MPs from other parties voted in its favour, but it is early days yet.
One of the problems Centre faces is that it is not clear how many of its MPs would support the alliance with EKRE. One prominent MP, Raimond Kaljulaid, had already stated his opposition to it, and announced on Friday that he is quitting the Centre party to sit as an independent. Even some Isamaa MPs might vote against the agreement as well, but we will not know for sure until such a lineup came to the Riigikogu – and that will only happen if Ms Kallas fails to get her coalition lineup through the vote.
Thus, the official coalition talks only start today, and the widespread belief that the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition would become fact, has been premature.
Thanks to Allar Jõks for his help in putting together this piece.