Estonian Prime Minister retires under a cloud

MOSCOW – The Estonian prime minister resigned on Wednesday, his coalition government of centrists and far-right populists engulfed in a corruption scandal over the misuse of state loans intended to alleviate the coronavirus pandemic.

The departure of the Prime Minister, Yuri Ratas, reported an unusual episode of political turmoil in a country that joined the European Union and also NATO in 2004, establishing itself as a bastion of pro-Western stability on Russia’s western border.

This focus is unlikely to change as Mr Ratas’ most likely successor, opposition center-right Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas, is a staunch supporter of the state-led military alliance- United. The Estonian president on Wednesday asked Ms Kallas to form a new government, but it was not clear whether she could muster the necessary votes in parliament.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ratas had led the tiny government of the tiny Baltic nation since 2016 as leader of the Center Party, whose strongest base of support was a large population of Russian descent who liked his policies at times. from the left.

He resigned after learning his party was among those under criminal investigation for loans by a state agency, KredEx, to a private property project in the port area of ​​the capital Tallinn. of the Baltic Sea in Estonia. The money was supposed to go to businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

One of the suspects in this case is an adviser to Finance Minister Martin Helme, a far-right politician who heads another coalition party and who once described his immigration policy as follows: “If you are black, go back ”.

The inclusion of Mr Helme’s EKRE party in the government, which severely damaged Estonia’s liberal image, followed an election in 2019 in which Mr Ratas’s Center Party won. badly behaved but managed to stay in power by forming a coalition with the far right and a rival. traditional conservative party.

Since the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, of which Estonia and two other Baltic states were a part, the country has built a strong economy, becoming one of the most wired and technologically advanced countries in the world.

Unlike neighboring Latvia, which has been hit by a long series of scandals linked to its large financial sector, Estonia has enjoyed a reputation as a clean government and finances, although it was badly damaged in 2018 when the Estonian branch of Danske Bank in Denmark was involved in an international investigation into the laundering of billions of dollars.

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