Presidential election campaign to begin next year (5)

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Ardi Hallismaa/Estonian Defense Forces)
7/27/2015 11:09 AM
Category: Politics

With arguably Estonia's most important presidential elections around a year away, the campaign is yet to kick off. But few front runners have already emerged.

The next president will usher in Estonia's EU presidency in 2018, and oversee the nation turning 100, also in 2018. Current President Toomas Hendrik Ilves will end his turn in August next year, and after two terms, he will not run again.

“The current situation is similar to 2001. That was when President Lennart Meri's term ended and he could no longer run. It is exactly same now – Ilves's time is over and this gives the campaign a fresh look compared to the previous years. If we remember how it was back then, then the real campaign only began in the new year,” University of Tartu political scientist Rein Toomla said.

The Reform Party has said it will allow its coalition partners, the Social Democrats and IRL, to decide the Cabinet's candidate, but two of the current top three frontrunners are both associated with the Reform Party – heavyweight veteran politician Siim Kallas and new Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand.

Kallas, the Reform Party founder, former PM and EU commissioner, has said he would have preferred to lead the government, but has not ruled out running for president. He is perhaps Estonia's most experienced and well-connected politician, but the word on the street is that his own party does not back him. He was played out of day-to-day politics at the beginning of 2014, and some say it was his own party who sabotaged his prime minister ambitions.

Kaljurand was talked about as a potential candidate before she was elevated to the foreign minister post a month ago. Kaljurand's strength is her foreign policy experience, including dealing with Washington and Moscow. She is a daughter of two immigrants, a women, which would be a first for a head of state in Estonia, and is not a member of any political party. It is unknown what she would bring to Estonia as a president – whether she would focus on foreign policy such as Ilves, or mimic Arnold Rüütel in helping to heal wounds from the Soviet era.

Jüri Luik, an IRL member, but first proposed by Sven Mikser, head of the Social Democrats at the time, is also an early frontrunner. Jüri Luik has seen it all in Estonian politics, becoming a minister at the age of 27 in 1993. He spent the last few years as Estonia's ambassador to Russia, perhaps the hardest diplomatic job, but is returning to Estonia to head the Center for Defense and Security. It is unclear if he has ambitions to become president.

Other names have been mentioned, such as MEP Indrek Tarand. He was the Center Party's candidate last time, but IRL's Urmas Reinsalu has backed him this time around. He is less diplomatic than other candidates, but has heaps of charisma and political experience. Current Parliament Speaker Eiki Nestor (Social Democrats) is his party's top candidate, but he might not want the job. Jaak Jõerüüt, former defense minister and writer, could be second favorite for many parties. The Center Party does not have many political allies, but if it did, Enn Eesmaa, MP and former TV anchorman, could fancy his chances. Jüri Raidla, currently the only potential candidate from the private sector, might also aim for the position, having tested the political waters with a few political statements recently.

J.M. Laats

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