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Estonia to get 1st female PM as government deal clinched

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FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, Chairwoman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas poses for a photo in Tallinn, Estonia. President Kersti Kaljulaid said Thursday Jan. 14, 2021, in a statement that Kaja Kallas would now have 14-days to put together a new Cabinet, after Prime Minister Juri Ratas stepped down in the wake of a corruption scandal. (AP Photo/Raul Mee, FILE)
By JARI TANNER Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonia’s two biggest political parties say they have clinched a deal to form a new government to be led by a female prime minister for the first time in the Baltic country’s history, replacing the previous Cabinet that collapsed into a corruption scandal earlier this month.

The party councils of the the opposition, center-right Reform Party and the ruling. left-leaning Center Party were expected on Sunday to vote in favor of joining a Cabinet headed by Reform’s prime minister-designate and chairwoman Kaja Kallas.

Both parties are set to have seven ministerial portfolios in the 14-member government, which would muster a majority at the 101-seat Riigikogu Parliament.

A joint statement said the Reform Party and the Center Party “will form a government that will continue to effectively resolve the COVID-19 crisis, keep Estonia forward-looking and develop all areas and regions of our country.”

Earlier this month, President Kersti Kaljulaid, who is expected to appoint Kallas’ Cabinet in the next few days, said tackling Estonia’s worsening coronavirus situation and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic should be an immediate priority for the new government.

Kaljulaid tasked Kallas to form the government as her pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship Reform Party emerged as the winner of Estonia’s March 2019 general election.

Pending approval from lawmakers, Kallas, 43, will become the first female head of government in the history of the small Baltic nation of 1.3 million which regained its independence amid the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A lawyer and former European Parliament lawmaker, she is the daughter of Siim Kallas, one of the Reform Party’s creators, a former prime minister and a former European Union commissioner. Kaja Kallas took the reins at the Reform Party in 2018 as its first female chair.

The government formation marks the second such attempt for Kallas in less than two years as she failed to bring about a Reform Party-led government after the 2019 election. That paved the way for the archrival Center Party and its leader, Juri Ratas, to form a three-party coalition without the Reform Party.

Ratas and his Cabinet resigned on Jan. 13 over a scandal involving a key official at his Center Party suspected of accepting a private donation for the party in exchange for a political favor on a real estate development at the harbor district of the capital, Tallinn.

Estonia’s prime minister since November 2016, Ratas won’t be part of the new Cabinet. Local media reported earlier that he could become the parliamentary speaker in March.

Estonia has been a member of the European Union and NATO since 2004.