In what seemed to have been a long-overdue decision, Minister of Justice Kristen Michal announced yesterday that he was stepping down.
He said after meeting with MP Andrus Ansip on Thursday that he had decided to step down in order to defend the Reform Party and the government’s professional ability. Michal said that it was difficult to remain Minister of Justice in the situation where the justice sector needs important changes, but they cannot be implemented because of attacks targeted at him.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said that he would take Michal’s resignation letter to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Monday. The Reform Party’s board is expected to put forward the candidate for the new Minister of Justice today, but so far there seems to be no clear frontrunner.
Ansip said he first offered the job to Kaja Kallas, MP and chairwoman of the parliamentary economic committee, but she refused, saying that she has a baby at home and would not want to sacrifice her family for the job. Media have speculated that possible candidates for the job are also Rait Maruste, chairman of the parliamentary constitutional committee, and Väino Linde, member of the same committee.
Postimees speculated yesterday with the name of Hannu Pevkur, current Minister of Social Affairs, and said that Pevkur’s old job would be taken over by MP Taavi Rõivas. Also Jaanus Tamkivi, chairman of the Reform Party’s faction in Parliament, confirmed that Pevkur was one of the candidates for the job. Pevkur and Rõivas were not available for comment yesterday.
Michal said in an interview that it is not the time to speculate whether he should have resigned already in the spring when Reform Party found itself in the middle of a funding scandal when party member Silver Meikar announced publicly that he had donated to the party over 100,000 kroons of funds whose origin he did not know. Meikar claimed that he received the money from party official Kalev Lillo and that the whole scheme was being masterminded by Michal.
“I cannot turn back clocks. If we had known before the real estate boom that the bubble will burst, perhaps we would have been more reasonable. But there is a time that these decisions must be made and I have made this decision mainly in the interest to keep the government able and to ensure that important things that have been started can progress,” said Michal.
Michal said that resignation was a deeply personal decision. “I have been considering it for a long time, it is not something that I have done on the spur of the moment. It is no secret that I have been offering this option to the Reform Party from the start of the scandal. This idea has been on the table for a long time. Several weeks ago the topic was also being discussed in the party’s board, but no-one even wanted to vote on it,” he added.
Although Michal himself denies having felt the pressure to step down, it is well known and publicised that President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has repeatedly called for the resignation of Michal as Justice Minister.
Also President's PR adviser Toomas Sildam said that Ilves has on several occasions told the prime minister that the minister should resign.
Michal said that he had not felt the pressure from the President.