President calls for constitutional change to ensure electoral college chooses head of state
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves opened the Riigikogu’s autumn session on Monday. In his speech, he called to the members of parliament to amend the constitution to specify that the electoral college has the task to elect the president, and that the possibility of passing on the election back to parliament would be abolished.
Ilves pointed to the fact that following the incapability of parliament to elect the next head of state, and now just two weeks away from the next attempt in the electoral college, the Estonian media were already speculating that the next president might not be elected on Sept. 24, and the task handed back to parliament.
This wouldn’t have the gravity of a constitutional crisis, but would certainly be against the spirit of the Constitution, Ilves said. The position of the new president would be weakened right at the start.
Despite the current issues with the election procedure, Ilves doesn’t think that the way the Estonian head of state is elected should be changed completely. “The powers of the president in a parliamentary state do not justify direct election. This would give a president without executive powers a direct mandate, while the executive — the government — would only have an indirect mandate,” Ilves said, adding that this would lead to a permanently unstable government, or at least to unclear responsibilities.
The upcoming election in the electoral college will include members of parliament as well as representatives of the country’s municipalities and city districts. This broader group of electors then has two ballot rounds to elect the next president.
The first round is open to all candidates that are nominated by the necessary number of electors, while the second round is a runoff between the two candidates that won the most votes in the first.
In the second round, a candidate needs the majority of all votes cast, including blank and invalid ballots, to be elected president. This opens up the procedure to the possibility of backroom deals and agreements between parties that could lead to the election getting passed back to parliament.
Ilves called for an amendment of the Constitution to the effect that in the second round of the election in the electoral college, the candidate with the most votes cast in their favour would win.
The president pointed out that so far since Estonia regained its independence, namely in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011, the president had been elected as specified by the Constitution. Those who had tried to turn the election into a beauty pageant, or abuse it for the gain of their own party, had failed.
“The Estonian Constitution doesn’t intend for presidential elections to be a beauty pageant or an entertainment show with a drawing contest, but a public agreement among parties to choose a head of state,” Ilves said.
The president added that he was hoping to see statesmanship in the decisions of the electoral college, not calculations and recalculations and and trying to score a point in the party ratings.