Alo Lõhmus: Elect the president in the electoral college
Only a president with the electoral college’s blessing would have the authority the office requires. Without passing this test, the new president would be considered worth less than the man currently in office, thought columnist Alo Lõhmus.
The presidential campaign has begun. Even though only one politician has announced his plans to run, it’s clear that, in the parties’ backrooms, the chances of one or the other person are being calculated, potential votes counted, and allies being considered. In a word, the horse trading has begun, or at least one is getting ready for it.
The most comfortable way for the parties to settle the matter would of course be to elect the president in the Riigikogu. But that’s just what they should try to avoid. I’m of the opinion that the next president should definitely be elected by the electoral college. The ballot rounds in the Riigikogu should be treated as nothing more than a warm-up phase.
The electoral college as a tradition
Firstly, what speaks for the electoral college is tradition. All three presidents of the post-war era were tried in its furnace, and if the next didn’t pass this text, they would somehow seem worth less, or as if they’d gotten into office on the cheap.
The college elected Lennart Meri for a second term in 1996, elected Arnold Rüütel in 2001, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 2006. All three have been good heads of state, and so the electoral college’s choices have been adequate. Why let such a good instrument go to waste?
A president elected by the college has an important advantage over one elected by the Riigikogu — they are granted great authority, authority that for some comes close to that of a president elected directly by the people.
The President of Estonia has relatively few real powers, which makes it all the more important that they have the authority needed to fulfill their role as a counterbalance to legislative and executive powers, as well as serve to encourage and lead the people, even soothe and console as needed. We may be facing troubled times ahead, and during such times it would be good if Estonia had a man or woman leading the country whose authoritative word would have an influence on both a government grown out of hand and parliamentary politicians as well as protestors.
The opportunity for small parishes to have a say
Furthermore, the choosing of the members of the electoral college, its convening, its rounds of voting whose outcomes are difficult to predict, and finally the announcement of the winner is a festive and I would say even therapeutic procedure, which holds the attention of the whole of society captive and is needed by the people as well, who themselves have become increasingly morose lately.
In the end, the electoral college allows the populations of even small, thousand-strong parishes to cast their vote — populations whose opinions on other matters have long since ceased to be asked, even regarding their merging with neighboring parishes, the necessity of which was decided upon by officials and politicians in Tallinn.
For many parts of the countryside, this year is evidently the last opportunity they will have to send a local representative, not some distant, appointed member of the party, to the electoral college. It would be lovely and symbolic if the voice of the disappearing parishes continued to have a say, via the mandate of the president, in affairs of the Estonian state for years to come.