Parliament narrowly votes Kert out

  • 2000-08-31
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich

Meri supports Kouts as new defense chief candidate

TALLINN - Lt. Gen. Johannes Kert lost his job as commander of Estonia's defense forces by a single vote in Parliament on Aug. 28 when a member of Parliament unwittingly pushed the wrong button.

The final count was 47 in favor and 46 against President Lennart Meri's proposal to dismiss the nation's top military official.

"We have retired Kert, and tomorrow Parliament will begin discussions on the new possible head of defense," said Defense Ministry spokesman Madis Mikko.

Tonu Kauba, a member of the Center Party, helped decide Kert's fate when he accidentally voted for sacking the general.

"To my mind I pushed the right button and I didn't watch how the system reacted," he told BNS. "I am sorry I let my colleagues down."

The Center Party kicked him out soon after the vote.

Kert's replacement is likely to be Rear Adm. Tarmo Kouts, director general of the Estonian Border Guard, whom Meri proposed the previous day at a National Defense Council meeting. The council confirmed that Kouts would be officially nominated for parliamentary approval after Kert was released and consultations had been held with the Parliament's state defense committee.

The Moderate faction, one of the three parties in the ruling coalition, regarded Meri's choice favorably.

"Estonia now needs a good commander-in-chief who could rearrange the defense system thoroughly so that Estonia can become a member of NATO," said Olari Koppel, the faction's press officer. "We all know that Kert is a good officer and soldier, but maybe he is not as good as a manager."

Kouts, he said, has proven himself to be an able administrator and the best person for the job.

"He built up the border guard from nothing," Koppel added.

The National Defense Council agreed, saying that it "highly appreciated the work of Kouts in building up the border guard organization, establishing border guard bases and developing of substructures," according to the presidential statement.

Kouts would not comment on his nomination until it is finalized, said Estonian Border Guard spokeswoman Sirle Kaju.

The proposal to nominate Kouts follows a two-months of controversy stirred up when Meri dismissed Kert on June 30 without directly notifying Parliament.

The opposition claimed Meri had overstepped his boundaries and then quickly tried to cover his tracks.

"I think the final result is a very positive impact on Estonian society," commented Reform Party faction chairman Jurgen Ligi, "which doesn't mean that everything was done positively and correctly before."

Ligi called Meri's initial action to dismiss Kert on his own "essentially incorrect;" nonetheless, Parliament won out in the end, he said.

The National Defense Council said that after the command system reform is completed, Kert would be appointed to the post of army commander, one rank below his former position. Questions have been raised, however, as to whether he would accept the job. If Kert does not continue with the armed forces, he would also no longer be bound to secrecy.

"If Parliament relieves Kert of the office of defense forces commander, the general promised to take a holiday and decide whether he would continue in the defense forces depending on who was the new defense forces commander," Tiit Tammsaar, chairman of Parliament's state defense committee, told the Baltic News Service.