TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonia's head of state on Tuesday appointed a new center-left government that pledges to keep the NATO member's foreign and security policy unchanged amid allegations that a key coalition member has links to Russia.
President Kersti Kaljulaid appointed a 15-member Cabinet led by Prime Minister Juri Ratas, the new chairman of the Center Party that has traditionally been favored by Estonia's sizable ethnic-Russian minority.
Ratas, 38, took over earlier this month from veteran politician Edgar Savisaar, who ruled the party with an iron fist for 25 years and raised eyebrows among Estonians with his close Moscow ties.
Center had been in the opposition since 2007, but Savisaar's decision not to seek re-election ushered in a new era and triggered talks for a change in the Cabinet — now a three-way coalition between Center, the left-leaning Social Democrats and the conservative IRL.
Center concluded a co-operation pact with the United Russia party in 2004, leading to accusations by other Estonian parties that it was too close to President Vladimir Putin's regime and his party.
Ratas said Monday that the deal has been frozen for the time being, and assured lawmakers that memberships in the EU and NATO are "the most important guarantee of security and welfare" in the former Soviet republic of 1.3 million in which a quarter of the population is ethnic Russian.
Later Monday, the 101-seat Parliament gave Ratas a mandate to form the government in a 53-33 vote, with 15 lawmakers abstaining or absent. The previous government led by Taavi Roivas of the center-right Reform Party, will resign Wednesday, and Ratas' Cabinet will be sworn in.
In just less than two months, Estonia's political scene has changed drastically as it has witnessed a switch in the government and the inauguration of Kaljulaid, who took over as president in October from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an outspoken critic of Russia who served as Estonia's head of state for 10 years.