Estonia’s new government sworn in with first female PM

Kaja Kallas stressed gender balance in forming the new cabinet, placing several women in key positions.

Kaja Kallas
Kaja Kallas

Estonia’s new two-party coalition government has been sworn in with the first female prime minister since the Baltic nation regained independence in 1991.

The 15-member cabinet of prime minister Kaja Kallas — a 43-year-old lawyer and a former European Parliament legislator — was approved on Tuesday in the 101-seat Riigikogu legislature, after President Kersti Kaljulaid had first appointed it.

The centre-right Reform Party, chaired by Ms Kallas, and the left-leaning Centre Party, which are Estonia’s two biggest political parties, clinched a deal on Sunday to form a government replacing the previous cabinet led by Centre leader Juri Ratas which collapsed this month due to a corruption scandal.

Both parties have seven ministerial portfolios in the cabinet in addition to Ms Kallas’s prime ministerial post. The government musters a comfortable majority in the parliament.

Juri Ratas
Juri Ratas (Johanna Geron/AP)

The cabinet has just over two years to deal with a number of issues and leave its mark in this European Union and Nato member before the next general election set for March 2023.

One of the immediate priorities is to tackle Estonia’s worsening coronavirus situation and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

The Reform Party, a pro-business and entrepreneurship party espousing liberal economic policies, emerged as the winner of the 2019 general election under Ms Kallas’s lead, but she was outmanoeuvred by the Centre Party, which formed a three-party coalition with the populist right-wing EKRE party and the conservative Fatherland party.

But Mr Ratas’s government, which took office in April 2019, was shaky from the start due to strong rhetoric from the nationalist EKRE, the nation’s third-largest party which runs on an anti-immigration and anti-EU agenda.

The EKRE leaders, Mart Helme and his son Martin, brought the government to the brink of collapse at least twice.

Mr Ratas’s government was eventually brought down on January 13 by a corruption scandal in his own party, involving an official suspected of accepting a private donation for the party in exchange for a political favour on a property development in the harbour district of the capital, Tallinn.

Ms Kallas has stressed gender balance in forming the new cabinet, placing several women in key positions, including Reform’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus as finance minister and Eva-Maria Liimets, Estonia’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, as the foreign minister.

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