Estonia's outgoing PM Ratas courts far right in power bid


Tallinn (AFP)

Estonia's outgoing centre-left prime minister Juri Ratas on Tuesday launched coalition talks with a far-right party that surged in recent elections in a move to prevent the winning liberals from forming a government.

The splintered result of the March 3 general election, in which five parties entered parliament, has made for tricky coalition building.

An attempt by Kaja Kallas, leader of the winning liberal Reform party, to forge a majority coalition with Ratas's second placed mainstream Centre party failed last week when he rejected her proposals for tax cuts.

This left both Kallas and Ratas free to seek other partners to govern with.

Ratas on Tuesday opened talks with the conservative Isamaa party and the far-right anti-EU Conservative People's Party EKRE, despite heated opposition within his own party.

"If the Center Party has the possibility to establish a coalition, I am prepared to continue my work (as prime minister)," Ratas told reporters in Tallinn ahead of the talks, adding that he was also ready to go into opposition.

If they agree a deal, the three parties could command a 57-seat majority in the 101-seat parliament.

The winning Reform party has 34 seats.

EKRE and Isamaa said they want to revoke legislation allowing the legal recognition of same-sex unions.

EKRE has also demanded tax cuts and measures to ban migrants from the Middle East.

Kallas -- who could become Estonia's first female prime minister -- said Tuesday she would now opt for talks with the Social Democrats party, although together they would not command a majority.

A europhile, Kallas has ruled out working with EKRE whose leader Mart Helme has mooted the idea of leaving the EU.

Centrist President Kersti Kaljulaid said that she intends to name Kallas, a 41-year-old lawyer and former MEP, as her candidate for prime minister but has so far not provided a date.

Bread-and-butter issues like taxation and public spending dominated the election in the ex-Soviet state of 1.3 million people known for its IT savvy.

Joblessness hovers at just under five percent in the EU and NATO member country, while economic growth is expected to slow to 2.7 percent this year from 3.9 percent in 2018.