TALLINN, Sept. 26 -- The Estonia Parliament voted overwhelmingly Monday for the resignation of the government, which has been plagued by a series scandals. The no-confidence vote passed 60-27, asking Prime Minister Mart Laar and his government to step down. The motion was proposed by the small minority Royalist Party, but it picked up support from various other political factions unhappy with the government. Under the constitution, Laar and his government must step down, and the president must appoint a new prime minister. Laar's center-right government has been in power in the ex-Soviet Baltic republic for two years, two-third's of the country's brief independence. 'It was a personal vendetta against Mart Laar's government,' said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mary Anne Rikken. Three scandals became the focus of opposition to Laar, 34, and his government: a controversial purchase of weapons from Israel, a mysterious sale of old Soviet rubles and government involvement in a failed potato project. Lawmakers also have been grumbling about what they consider the government's soft stance toward Moscow in the recent compromise that allowed resident Russian military pensioners to stay in Estonia as part of the agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops. The Estonian leadership has never been very warm and compromising toward Moscow, but many politicians thought the government should have taken an even harder line in recent troop withdrawal talks. The first scandal involved a secret arms deal with Israel. After independence from the Soviet Union, the small young Baltic state that borders Russia was unable to find any country willing to sell it weapons, except Israel.
The secret deal became a public controversy with the disclosure that many of the weapons were defective, prompting Israel to turn the sale into a gift. The ruble scandal involved Estonia introducing its own currency and withdrawing old Soviet and Russian rubles that were to be turned over to Moscow. But instead, Estonia sold an estimated 2.3 billion rubles, allegedly to Moscow's arch-enemies who run the separatist self-declared independent Chechen republic. The third scandal involved Laar making financial guarantees to a joint U.S.-Estonian company Lekto for potatoes, but the seed potatoes were sent late, the crop failed and ultimately so did the venture, despite government financial pledges. The no-confidence measure was put foward by the Royalist Party, which has eight members in the 101-seat Parliament, but it picked up support from the liberals and from a mixture of politicians on the left and right.