Center's candidate: Mailis Reps
Reps was somewhat of a surprise choice, as she does not have the star power of more prominent Center Party members like Edgar Savisaar, Kadri Simson, or Yana Toom. Reps’ relatively low profile goes hand in hand with her status as a non-controversial candidate.
She does not alienate the ethnic Estonians (like Savisaar and Toom tend to) and does not reinforce internal tensions in the party (Simson).
Reps served as minister of education twice and currently is a member of the Riigikogu, where she is a member of the cultural affairs committee. She is one of Estonia’s three members in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where she has been active in issues of human rights.
In addition, Reps has an impressive international education, with two graduate degrees from outside of Estonia. Overall, these experiences qualify Reps for president, but significant question marks remain, especially regarding her ability to represent Estonia internationally.
Reps’ ability to engage on NATO and EU topics would be limited not only based on her lack of experience on the issues, but also a lacking network. While networks can be improved and expertise acquired, given Reps’ starting point it would take time. And time is not a luxury the next president can afford, as crises abound in security and foreign affairs.
Normally a low profile candidate would have a difficult time gaining influence internationally, but Reps has one bonus on her side, namely that she would potentially be the first woman president of Estonia. The positive impact of this would be felt the most at home, but it would also be influential internationally.
This, coupled with her being a rather young president, would most likely generate a small level of international excitement and provide Reps with an opportunity to turn that moment of fame into a solid international profile for herself.
A successful profile would have to play to Reps’ strengths, which would most likely be human rights and equality issues. The foreign and defence ministries would then pick up the slack on NATO and EU issues. Whether or not Reps has the ability to forge that international profile remains a question that only time can answer.
This article is the first in a six-part series published between Aug. 22 and 27. The other articles in the series are listed below.
Matthew Crandall is an international relations lecturer at Tallinn University. He has agreed to write portraits for all six presidential hopefuls in the 2016 election.