Toomas Sildam: Estonia looking for a president

Members of the Electoral College at the Estonia Concert Hall.
Members of the Electoral College at the Estonia Concert Hall. Source: Rene Suurkaev/ERR

Having a "president of the government" sounds bad and would belittle the role of the head of state, while a more broad-based electoral process would require cooperation between the coalition and the opposition reaching which would be a feat of superhuman proportions, journalist Toomas Sildam writes.

A year from now in August, Estonia will be electing a new president. Right now, heads of parties are saying that they have not thought that far ahead. These words should not be taken too seriously. As while we can always debate the influence and role of the president in a parliamentary country, they are still the head of state. The president often determines Estonia's appearance abroad and should act as the country's conscience during domestically sensitive times.

According to the law, the president is elected by the Riigikogu, with support from at least 68 MPs required. If the parliament is unable to do this, the election will move to the Electoral College that is made up of MPs and representatives from all local government councils. Should the college fare no better, things will move back to the Riigikogu and the cycle begin anew.

The coalition of the Center Party, Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Isamaa has discussed the presidential election briefly. Because the parties are against giving the rather critical Kersti Kaljulaid a second term, their aim is to find a new president for Estonia.

However, it is difficult to imagine the three rather different coalition partners agreeing on a common candidate. Even if they could, it is even more difficult to imagine the opposition Reform Party throwing its weight behind their candidate, while the coalition's candidate would need the opposition's support to be elected in the parliament. Therefore, should the coalition foster ambitions of being the kingmaker here, they would need to take the election to the Electoral College that traditionally convenes in the Estonia Concert Hall. Following the administrative reform and local government mergers, local council electors make up just half of the college, with the Riigikogu accounting for the other half. This has definitely increased the coalition's chances of putting their candidate through the gauntlet successfully.

However, that would make them the government's president. And that does not sound good. It would eat away at the new president's social capital and popular credit right from the beginning.

The best fit for Estonia would be a president whose support would go beyond just the coalition or just the opposition. This would require at least one part of the coalition to work with their political opponents. For example, if Center, Reform and either Isamaa or the Social Democratic Party could strike an accord, the president could be elected in the Riigikogu that is the idea of the parliamentary constitution of Estonia.

A beautiful thought but one hard to put into practice. Very hard.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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