Kallas suggests reshuffling jobs, including his

  • 2002-10-10
  • Aleksei Gunter

At a forum of state officials in Tartu last week, Estonia's Prime Minister Siim Kallas suggested scrapping his post and giving the prime minister's responsibilities to the president, as well as several other major changes.

In his speech at an annual gathering of state officials, Kallas, chair of the Reform Party, also proposed subordinating the State Audit Office and the Justice Chancellery to Parliament rather than to the prime minister.

"I've closely cooperated with the presidents in the decade since independence but the role of the president of our state still remains unclear to me," said Kallas.

"The president is only a ceremonial figure who accepts credentials from foreign ambassadors, endorses the Cabinet's members but cannot interfere in its work, and gives out decorations," Kallas said.

Kallas called the president "a mere stamp," echoing Lennart Meri, Estonia's first president after Soviet rule.

The problem is that the president is alienating the people from the government, Kallas explained. "For example, President Arnold Ruutel met a delegation of tenants from Tallinn who had lost their homes in a legal dispute and said the president was their only hope. People think there is a good president and a bad government, but actually the president cannot do a thing to solve any real problem," Kallas said.

Thus without a major change in the legal system establishing direct presidential elections will not have any effect, said Kallas. "People would elect a president who would then definitely intervene in the affairs of the government which is not possible under the current law," Kallas said.

No one would be motivated to run for president just in order to stand on a red carpet and sign papers which other officials have composed, he added.

Referring to upcoming municipal elections on Oct. 20, former Prime Minister Mart Laar rejected Kallas' ideas as "unexpected pre-election propaganda" and "an attempt to sidestep democracy" in an interview with the Postimees daily.

"In the 1930s, some Estonian politicians had similar proposals. Our neighbor, Finland has direct presidential elections, but that does not decrease the efficiency of the Finnish state. Kallas' ideas are rather a step back than a step forward. He is rocking the boat when Estonia has not yet reached safe harbor," Laar said.

Other politicians were more restrained in commenting on Kallas' ideas.

Edgar Savisaar, chair of the Center Party and mayor of Tallinn, said it would be better to postpone major changes to the state machine until after the local elections. "But in general politicians from the Center Party have always been careful when it comes to giving one public figure such a lot of authority," said Savisaar.

Ken-Marti Vaher, deputy chair of Res Publica party, described the proposals as utopian. "They would demand huge changes in the constitution. That is very difficult and takes a lot of time. Maybe Kallas is trying to draw public attention away from the recent scandals Reform Party members have been involved in," Vaher said.