• 2005-03-23
It is both a shame and a relief that Estonia's Cabinet collapsed this week. A shame because the government was committed to economic growth and fighting corruption, yet a relief because in recent months it had become glaringly ineffective, bogged down in internal bickering and finger-pointing.

To be sure, it is quite surprising that the government lasted as long as it did. Five ministers either resigned or were sacked for various reasons, one party nearly left over a promised tax break and the leading partner, Res Publica, saw its approval rating all but evaporate since propelling to power in March 2003. With that kind of turbulence, Prime Minister Juhan Parts deserves credit for keeping it together.

Still, many had hoped that this Cabinet would set a Baltic record and go the entire four years. With Res Publica leaders going so far as to consider a merger with the Reform Party, the other major coalition player, it appeared the right-wing partners had settled in their chairs for the long haul. The turning point, however, came when Parts, without consulting his allies, decided to sack his foreign minister after she tried to shirk off responsibility for dozens of ministerial documents that went missing, even though the auditors concluded the contrary.

Parts, who by sacking the Reformist had assumed the moral high ground, only set himself and his party up to be knocked down. Right as he might have been, he effectively doomed the coalition. If they hadn't picked apart the Justice Minister Vaher's questionable anti-corruption program, they would have found something else.

In terms of accomplishment, the Parts government managed to cut income taxes and jack up parental allowances, which in turn sparked an increase in the number of babies. For tiny Estonia, which has seen its birthrate and population decline dramatically over the past 15 turns, the importance of this achievement cannot be overstated. Finally a government with courage and long-term vision tackled a problem of monumental proportion. It is likely that decades from now historians and demographers will look back upon the government of 2003 's 2005 with a kind word, and babies born under the new allowance scheme will be known as the "Res Publica generation."

Res Publica itself is in trouble. The party that was marketed as incorruptible and clean has now been tarnished by about as much muck as any other veteran political formation. It will take a near-miracle to revive it in the image of voters, and how party leaders behave in the next few days will be extremely crucial.