Estonian municipalities expect non-partisan presidential candidates
The coalition most likely couldn't get a candidate of its own elected President in August. If deadlock in the Riigikogu makes the convening of the electoral college necessary, it’s the votes of the local governments that matter - and they demand a candidate who isn’t a party member.
Municipal politicians make up more than two-thirds of the electoral college that comes together to choose a new head of state if the Riigikogu can’t agree on a candidate. They announced on Tuesday that they would prefer to give their vote to a person who isn't part of any political party's chain of command, Eesti Paevaleht reported.
The current three-party coalition is nine votes short of the majority it would need to secure the election of a candidate of its own. In fact, there is currently not a single group in parliament with sufficient votes to elect a president.
This could mean that the three balloting rounds in parliament prescribed by the constitution remain without a result. In this case, the electoral college that would convene wouldn’t make things easier for the ruling parties either.
A count of municipal politicians that are members of a political party reveals that in the electoral college the coalition would need 14 votes from outsiders to get a candidate of its own elected. And that's provided that the coalition parties come up with a joint candidate, and stay in line in the election.
Typically the municipalities send their council chairpersons to the electoral college. But that doesn’t have to be the case. If some of them should decide to appoint a non-partisan representative or a person belonging to a different political party than that of the chairperson, nose counts become very unreliable.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ first election in 2006 was the last time the head of state was elected by an electoral college. Back then, the electoral college was made up of 345 people. Ilves won the election with 174 votes, ahead of the then incumbent President Arnold Rüütel, who got 162 votes.
According to political scientist Erik Moora, the electoral college is unpredictable. Just adding up the numbers of Reform Party, Social Democratic Party and IRL representatives is not enough to get a viable estimate.
"There are a lot of people who will vote depending on the candidate, and different dynamics will start working there," Moora said.
There are many non-partisan local government councils in Estonia. According to an estimate by Eesti Paevaleht, non-partisan members of the electoral college will reach about one hundred votes. Adding 101 MPs and 232 municipal electors equals 333 as the likely size of the electoral college in a possible election held in September.
A candidate has to reach 50% plus one vote to get elected, meaning that 167 votes in favor of the candidate will be required. That the coalition parties will get the required number of votes together cannot be ruled out, the newspaper said.
“A lot depends on the choice of candidates, how painful the process of administrative reform will be, and whether or not the response to it on the local level will be increased readiness to protest,” Moora said, adding that he believed that in the electoral college, a person who was more than just the figurehead of any political party stood a bigger chance to get elected.
"I believe it could be Kaljurand, but she definitely isn't the only such person. In Latvia, for instance, the dynamics of presidential elections have been such that the machine gets in motion, and nobody knows in the morning what will come out of it by the evening. Candidates will surface that have never been on the table as candidates before, with whom no one has even conducted an interview or run a background check," Moora said.