Estonian populists sealed a coalition deal with two other political parties Saturday in a bid to take power, more than a month after the general election.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party, or EKRE, which has gained increasing popularity since its establishment in 2012, said it will form a three-way majority government with the centrist Center Party and the conservative Fatherland.
The 15-member Cabinet, where each party is to hold five ministerial portfolios, would be led by Center’s leader, ex-Prime Minister Juri Ratas, who has held the top government post in the nation of 1.3 million since November 2016.
The coalition would muster a comfortable majority of 57 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu legislature, but Estonia’s president must first formally task the three parties to form a government.
The coalition deal was concluded after weeks of negotiations following the March 3 election won by the center-right Reform Party with 28.9% of votes, followed by Center and EKRE with 23.1% and 17.8%, respectively.
It came after Friday’s announcement from Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid that she had tasked Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas with forming a government, in accordance with the head of state’s pledge to the party that won the most votes.
But Kallas’ only option would be to form a minority Cabinet with the Social Democratic Party — something she said wasn’t on the table.
Kallas, tipped after the election to become Estonia’s first female prime minister, said she’d make her plans known on April 15.
Only five parties exceeded the threshold to Parliament in the election.
EKRE’s rise to government power has caused concern in the former Soviet republic particularly among the nation’s sizable ethnic Russian minority which has traditionally backed the Center Party.
The strong anti-immigration and nationalist rhetoric of EKRE has created fears of political development akin to Hungary and Poland.
EKRE chairman Mart Helme, 69, who runs the party together with his son, vice chairman Martin Helme, 42, said he was happy with the pact which “protects key promises given to our party and voters.”
“We’re going to show a firm commitment to standing up for Estonia’s cause in the government and governing in an honest and efficient way,” said Mart Helme, a former diplomat and historian that has led the party since 2013.
The father-son combination is to have a substantial say in the Cabinet as Mart Helme will become Estonia’s interior minister and Martin Helme will take over the key finance minister portfolio.
The grip of the party, whose slogan is “For Estonia!” and which claims to defend the interests of ethnic Estonians, on the nation’s politics was enhanced further on Thursday when EKRE lawmaker Enn Polluaas was elected parliamentary speaker.
Kaljulaid said in a speech to lawmakers on the same day, in apparent reference to EKRE’s rise to power, that the country had “a crisis of values” with many Estonians feeling “something is broken in our society.”