Estonia: Government led by nation’s first woman PM sworn in

HELSINKI (AP) — A new two-party coalition government was sworn in Tuesday in Estonia, led by the first woman prime minister since the Baltic nation regained independence in 1991.

The 15-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas took office after lawmakers in Estonia’s parliament approved the government appointed by President Kersti Kaljulaid. Kallas, 43, is a lawyer and former European Parliament member.

The center-right Reform Party that she chairs and and the left-leaning Center Party, which are Estonia’s two biggest political parties, reached a deal on Sunday to form a government. The previous Cabinet, with Center leader Juri Ratas as prime minister, collapsed this month due to a corruption scandal.

The two parties each have seven ministers in the Cabinet in addition to Kallas serving as prime minister. The government controls a comfortable majority in the 101-seat Riigikogu.

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

Kallas’ Cabinet has a little over two years to leave its mark in this European Union and NATO member before the next general election set for March 2023.

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

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

But Ratas’ 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.

However, Ratas’ government was eventually brought down on Jan. 13 by a corruption scandal involving an official suspected of accepting a private donation for the Center Party in exchange for a political favor on a real estate development at the harbor district of the capital, Tallinn.

Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, is now one of the few countries where both the head of state and the head of government are women.

However, that may not necessarily last long as Estonian lawmakers will convene by September to elect a new president. Kaljulaid, who assumed her post in October 2016, hasn’t announced whether she will seek reelection to another five year term.

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