TALLINN - Estonia was thrown into political turmoil on March 21 after two ruling coalition parties joined opposition forces to oust a minister from the party of Prime Minister Juhan Parts, leading the head of government to announce his resignation.
Parts, who is also chairman of Res Publica, promised to dismiss the government on March 24 after Parliament approved a no-confidence vote in Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher on March 21.
Vaher, a fellow Res Publica member, was accused of pondering anti-democratic measures to fight corruption. Among his most vociferous critics were the Reform Party and the People's Union, Res Publica's coalition partners.
In a speech delivered in Parliament after the vote, Parts made it clear that his hands were tied.
"There is nothing unnatural about opposition parties expressing a no-confidence vote in a minister. But when the ruling parties join a no-confidence motion against a government minister, it is clear that the work and cooperation potential of this government are irretrievable," the prime minister said.
As The Baltic Times went to press, who would comprise the next ruling coalition remained unclear, as all parties represented in the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament) expressed their readiness to negotiate with any partners.
Parts, however, seemed to suggest that further cooperation with the Reform Party would be extremely difficult, though later he clarified this by saying that, as Christians, one must be able to forgive and that Res Publica might be able to work with the Reformists.
Ironically, the two right-wing parties last year flirted with the idea of merging. But after Parts rushed to sack Kristiina Ojuland, a minister from the Reform Party, in February, the spirit of cooperation between the two parties was dealt a severe blow.
While politicians condemned the anti-corruption program, some law enforcement and crime prevention experts pointed out there was nothing terrible about making the fight against corruption and drug-related crime measurable. The program, prepared by the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry and other institutions, included guidelines on how many corruption and drug crime cases the police could send to court this year.
Prior to the no-confidence vote, Vaher tried to defend the program before MPs by saying that the prosecutor's office and other law enforcement officials had been pressed for time and that the draft bill was open to amendments.
"It is absurd to state there were any lists [of possibly corrupt officials] or arrest plans," said Vaher.
"Is the unpolished wording or a work document the reason why all the work should be wasted?" he asked lawmakers rhetorically.
President Arnold Ruutel, who approved Vaher's dismissal on March 21, will have to choose a prime minister candidate capable of forming a new government within two weeks from the current government's resignation, according to the Constitution.
If no candidate is found in time, Parliament will have to find and approve one of its members. If that fails, the country will see extraordinary general elections ahead of the normal spring 2007 deadline.
The Reformists were the first to form a coalition discussion workgroup of several ministers and MPs on March 22. Kristen Michal, the party's secretary general, said President Ruutel had yet to invite anyone from the Reform Party to discuss a possible new coalition.
"Parts will hand in his resignation on [March 24], and only after the possible candidates for the PM seat become more visible, it would be reasonable for the president to invite anyone," he said.
Michal added that no party had officially offered the Reformists to form a new coalition, although off-stage discussions between various parties were already taking place in Parliament.
"We have so far formulated our position in the way that we would not say 'no' to anybody 's even to Res Publica," said Michal. "The no-confidence was not against Res Publica, but against one Stalinist idea. However, Parts decided that one minister was more important than the whole government, which led to its dismissal."
Vilja Savisaar, chairwoman of the Center Party faction, which did not back the no-confidence vote, said it was too early to discuss a new coalition before the existing government actually stepped down.
"First of all the five political forces that backed the no-confidence vote should take political responsibility and form a new coalition. If they fail to do so, the Center Party as a major political force is always ready to take that responsibility and join a ruling coalition," said Savisaar.
She added that her party did not abandon the idea to form a left-center coalition with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals and the People's Union, which was aired by Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar last week. "We have not forgotten about it, but the time of the next meeting [with other left-wing parties] will be more certain after the government's resignation on March 24," said Vilja Savisaar.
The Social Democrats welcomed Edgar Savisaar's idea but criticized the Centrists' refusal to back the no-confidence vote against Vaher.
Police Department spokeswoman Anu Adra said that, since 2003, police have worked on a result-oriented basis when signing agreements on certain crime prevention and solving goals. One such example is to solve 80 percent of homicide and murder cases. Police compile the agreements after analyzing a region's criminal situation.
"Corruption and drug crimes are latent crimes, which means these kind of crimes are registered thanks to police work or other law enforcement agency work, and in most cases the person who reportedly committed the crime is also known," said Adra, referring to undercover operations.