Kallas to form new government

  • 2002-01-24
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas is Estonia's new prime minister. Kallas, a long-time finance minister, will form a new government, which is to be endorsed by the president within seven days.

The Parliament approved Kallas, 53, as the new prime minister on the afternoon of Jan. 22, with 62 votes out of 101. Thirty-one MPs voted against him, while others were either absent or did not vote.

Besides the Reform Party, the opposition factions of the Center Party, United People's Party and most of the People's Union backed Kallas with their votes.

The procedure took almost three hours; as soon as Kallas finished a half-hour, pre-vote speech, MPs put question after question to him about his would-be tenure.

In the speech, he admitted that despite the growing number of new cars and luxury houses in Estonia there is a large group of people who have not found their place in life, and their discontent is growing.

"The Reform Party and the Center Party are the modern symbols of that confrontation in politics," said Kallas, referring to two ideologically different political parties now tied together by a coalition agreement he and Centrists head Savisaar signed on Jan. 18. He added that it was time to quit interparty disputes and give the rest of society a positive signal.

Kallas confirmed he would follow the foreign policy priorities Laar's government had set. EU and NATO accession would have precedence for the new Cabinet.

The only issue the two parties had not yet been able to solve, according to Kallas, was tax policy. "But we have decided to tuck this question away until the next general elections," said Kallas.

The Center Party plans to implement a progressive income tax, while the Reformists want to lower the current income tax rate from 26 percent to 20 percent.Other significant innovations the new coalition yearns to put into action are public presidential elections (at the moment, the president is elected by Parliament) and lengthening the periods between municipal elections from three to four years.

According to the Estonian constitution, the new prime minister must present a final list of Cabinet members to the president for approval within seven days.

After 40 minutes of talks in the Presidential Palace on Jan. 18 with Kallas and Savisaar, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel announced that Kallas should be the successor to Mart Laar, who resigned earlier in January, and form the new government.

"But given that the Center Party holds the largest number of seats in the Parliament, I first planned to name Edgar Savisaar as the candidate to make the new Cabinet," said Ruutel after the meeting.

But Savisaar has decided to remain mayor of Tallinn, a position he took up late last year.

Leaving the palace, Kallas said he hopes to get the new government up and running by the start of February. "But the coming year will be a tough one for the country in general," he added.

Kallas has already been in Laar's shoes - when the prime minister took a vacation last August.

The Center Party hopes ultimately to win more support and boost its popularity ratings. Savisaar told reporters after meeting Ruutel that he does not exclude the possibility that the number of Center Party members will increase all over the country now that the party has become a ruling coalition partner.

According to the two parties' coalition agreement, the new government will introduce free meals in secondary schools and raise monthly pensions by 200 kroons ($11). This will require an additional 1 percent of this year's budget, or 300 million kroons.

The new coalition also wants to bring back the switch to summer time, which will sensibly give it the same time this year as its neighbors Latvia and Finland.

The coalition agreement Kallas and Savisaar signed on Jan. 18, names nine new ministers for the Cabinet. Only one is from the Reform Party, since the four Reform Party ministers from the old government will keep their seats.

The Centrists are suggesting Meelis Polda, 34, head of Saare Finants Ltd., a finance company, to replace Kallas as the new finance minister, and MP Liina Tonisson, 61, as a joint minister of economy, and transport and communications.

Jaanus Marrandi, 38, a Centrist MP, will be nominated for the position of agriculture minister, and his colleague Siiri Oviir, 54, is tipped to be Estonia's next social minister. The post of interior minister is being reserved for Ain Seppik, 49, a former chief of the Estonian police.

The new Cabinet could continue Estonia's reputation for fresh faces if Ruutel has his way and approves Mailis Rand, a 27-year-old teacher of comparative law, and Sven Mikser, an MP of the same age, as ministers of education and defense, respectively.

Eldar Efendiyev, 47, a former mayor of the Russian-dominated eastern city of Narva, is nominated for the position of population minister.

Kristina Ojuland, 35, a Reform Party MP and Estonia's representative at the European Commission, could become the country's first female foreign affairs minister.

The departing ministers in Laar's Cabinet will receive hefty sums in compensation should they decide not to continue working in the Parliament. For example, Henrik Hololei, the minister of economy who has held his post for just four months, will get 180,000 kroons ($10,300), or half his annual salary, for being laid off.