The night before the presidential elections are to be held in the in electoral college at Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn, current candidates Siim Kallas, Mart Helme, Marina Kaljurand, Allar Jõks and Mailis Reps took part in a debate, broadcast live on ETV, where topics covered ranged from internal economic and social policy issues to defense spending, immigration, emigration and Saturday's elections themselves.
A notable amount of time was dedicated to debating topics related to the economy and social policy. One such matter on which the presidential candidates were divided was attitudes toward raising the retirement age, a plan introduced to the public within recent weeks by Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna.
Mart Helme (EKRE candidate) called the plan to raise the retirement age to 70 a "fantasy" of 30-40-year-olds, noting that decision-makers that age had no idea what life was like at 70. Siim Kallas (Reform candidate) and Marina Kaljurand (independent candidate), however, agreed that a retirement age hike was necessary.
A likewise hot topic was the subject of immigration and emigration. Allar Jõks (Free, IRL candidate) called for more freedom for businesses to bring in qualified foreign workers. Kallas was in favor of loosening current restrictions, such as the requirement to pay employees from outside of the EU a minimum of 1.24 times the average monthly wages, which is meant to protect the job market from cheap labor.
Asked what about Estonia made the candidates feel ashamed, Mailis Reps (Center candidate), Kaljurand and Helme all mentioned the general treatment of the country's elderly and other needy. Kallas, however, stated that he couldn't think of anything to feel ashamed about and instead felt pride.
"Major corruption cases are what need to be resolved quickly, as they stand out outside of Estonia as well," Kallas finally added.
On increasing defense spending to 2.4 percent of GDP
On the subject of defense and foreign policy, Helme called for Estonia to increase its defense spending to 2.4 percent of the GDP. Asked at what expense, Helme replied that a business environment favorable for growth must be created, as that would generate additional funds for the state budget.
Jõks found that if Estonia's external representation — i.e. good relations with allies — is considered a front line of Estonia's defense policy, then budget cuts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be stopped.
Reps, however, noted that previous increases in Estonia's defense spending have come at the expense of cuts to the country's internal security — i.e. the police, border guard and rescue services. "People's sense of security will not increase thus," she noted.
While Kallas announced toward the end of the debate that, should the elections head back to the Riigikogu, he would not run for president for a third time in these elections, he nonetheless noted that he did not plan to leave Estonian politics — a point he had already made earlier in the evening appearing on ETV's broadcast "Ringvaade." During the debate, he noted that he "enjoys it more all the time."
Kaljurand, who, according to a recent poll, is Kallas' biggest rival in Saturday's elections, stressed on her part that it is of utmost importance that the next president is successfully elected in the electoral college on Saturday. She noted that if electors failed to accomplish this, "That would be cheating the people."
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla