TALLINN - President Arnold Ruutel began talks this week with political party leaders in order to find a suitable candidate for the position of prime minister. Reform Party Chairman Andrus Ansip was the first to visit the president's palace on March 29, and much of the speculation has focused on his nomination.
This, in turn, has given rise to two likely scenarios for the next coalition government: a right-wing coalition of Res Publica, the Reform Party and Pro Patria Union, or a mixed bloc of Res Publica, the Reformists and the Center Party.
Ansip was scheduled to meet with party leaders from both Res Publica and Pro Patria on March 30, intensifying speculation that a right-wing coalition with 54 seats in Parliament was likely to materialize. If it does, the new Cabinet would be further to the right than the previous one, with Pro Patria replacing the People's Union.
Parliamentary parties proceeded with meetings even before the government of Juhan Parts resigned on March 24. Generally, all parties said they were open for cooperation with any partners, with the exception of Pro Patria Union, which said it would never join a coalition with the Centrists.
Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar said that a coalition based on a common world-view would be easier to build and might last longer.
"It is understandable that Ansip has started with an attempt to compose a coalition of the Reform Party, Res Publica and Pro Patria Union. If he succeeds at that, he would have to be commended," said Savisaar.
"Of course the main dispute between us and the Reform Party is, on one hand, the continuation of the tax reform the Squirrels [the Reformists' mascot 's ed.] promote, and on the other hand, introduction of a progressive income tax, which is our long-term goal," said Savisaar. "However, in the tax policy we also have common positions. Neither of the parties supports an increase of the tax burden."
Parts resigned after MPs, including many from his coalition partners, voted to remove Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher for a controversial anti-corruption plan that, among other things, included quotas on arrests.
Parts said in a news conference on March 24 that no party in Parliament should avoid the responsibility of forming a government, and that the Reform Party and maybe the People's Union could be the principal driving force in shaping the new coalition.
"It would be logical from our point of view that the parties who caused the government crisis should take the responsibility of providing Estonia with an operative government," Parts said of his coalition partners. "These are the ABCs of democracy."
In Parts' opinion, differences in the programs of local parties could never block the way to forming a ruling coalition, because in practice a compromise is always possible.
Parts admitted his Cabinet was very diverse as it united the more left-leaning People's Union, the right-wing Reform Party and the center-right Res Publica. He said that a possible union of Estonia's three right-wing parties 's Res Publica, the Reformists and the Pro Patria Union 's would be "one possible scenario." Together the three would have 54 seats in the 101-strong legislature.
Whether Res Publica and the Reform Party, who last year signed a memorandum on a possible merger, could mend fences was still a matter of conjecture. Parts said Res Publica, a young party he helped create in 2001, would consider cooperating with the Reformists if Ansip admitted the no-confidence vote on Vaher and the whole government crisis were in fact actions of manipulation.
The outgoing prime minister suggested the government crisis would trigger changes in Estonia's political landscape.
"I do not exclude that soon we will hear about consolidation of left-wing forces, which would have been very positive. I think today there is a great opportunity for that. I believe they will use it," said Parts.
However, cooperation between leftist forces in Parliament seemed to have reached a dead end after the March 29 meeting of the Center Party and the Social Democrats. The latter's chairman, Ivari Padar, told the ETV public television channel that an agreement with the Centrists did not look possible due to a different understanding of democracy.
"We do not consider creation of a leftist government really probable, but in politics everything is a matter of negotiations," said Padar.
Parts strongly rejected the idea that he should give up the position of Res Publica chairman due to the government crisis.
"I do not think at all that the government's collapse is some sort of failure for Res Publica. Res Publica is not a party that would hold onto power at all costs, otherwise we could have acted differently," Parts insisted.
Parliamentary speaker Ene Ergma, a member of Res Publica, kept her seat after MPs opted to re-elect her to the position on March 24. Her new deputies will be Andres Lipstok from the Reform Party and Toomas Varek of the Center Party.
Peeter Kreitzberg from the Social Liberal parliament group failed to keep his deputy speaker position.
Lipstok, who had earlier replaced Rein Lang as the deputy speaker when the latter had become the new foreign affairs minister, was re-elected.