Prime Minister: Next president should be societal bridge-builder

Jüri Ratas being interviewed on Tuesday's
Jüri Ratas being interviewed on Tuesday's "Esimene stuudio". Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) says that while the current president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has done her best, the next president should do all they can to unite Estonian society.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday evening, Ratas said: "I think that she has given the best of herself, as much as she has been able to and wanted to. However, it is my hope that the next President of the Republic of Estonia will do all they can to build bridges on a day-to-day basis."

Ratas denied that there had been any communication breakdown between him and the head of state, however.

"In the course of my work, I have done everything possible to help out the current president, Kersti Kaljulaid, to obtain her new office (Kaljulaid is running for the position of Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – ed.), wherever she wants, where he is running. It would give a very strong signal for Estonia if the president were successful in the campaign," Ratas added.

"We communicate freely and on many issues we see things in the same way, but there are also those issues where we see things differently," the prime minister noted.

So far as candidates for the next presidential election, a process which starts in late summer, Ratas said that neither his party, Center, nor the coalition as a whole had talked about potential candidates, though he remained sceptical about a possible second term for the current incumbent.

A candidate should be found who is supported by as many political parties as possible, and in any case should be a person who unites the country in all senses, he said.

Apparent clashes between the head of state and the coalition have recurred, starting with the Center/EKRE/Isamaa lineup taking office in late April 2019.

Ratas ruled out running for president himself, however, saying he was not even considering it.

He did however cite former education minister Mailis Reps as a candidate he could get behind.

He said: "Would Mailis be a good president? I certainly support that in my heart. Whether this moment will come in 2021 is still too early to assess at present."

Ratas also noted that both elections taking place in 2021 – for president and the local elections I the fall – represented a celebration of the electorate being able to give its assessment of politicians.

"More so in the local elections, since unfortunately we do not have direct presidential elections," he added.

The presidential elections follow several ballots at the Riigikogu, followed by rounds with a regional electoral college if this proves conclusive, and ending up with a vote by the Riigikogu's council of elders if a winner has still not emerged. Kersti Kaljulaid was ultimately elected via this last means in October 2016.

Prime minister: Marriage referendum would resolve long-running conflict in society

The interview also covered the planned referendum on the definition of marriage, which is currently subject to over 9,000 amendments proposed by opposition MPs, and a few coalition MPs as well.

Ratas said that he did not fear coalition party the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leaving office in reaction to the process being held up by the amendments.

"It is up to each party to decide whether they want to be accountable and leave, or to always choose the hardest way to stay," he said, acknowledging that the current situation is a complex one.

"The situation is difficult, and I do not dispute that," Ratas said.

While the bill, which would if it passes hold a referendum on whether to define marriage as between one man and one woman in legislation, which it currently is in the Family Law Act, was brought by all three coalition parties, it was originally and EKRE policy which the party got into the coalition agreement signed in April 2019.

Ratas said the referendum is necessary to enable a discussion on the issue nationally.

He said: "A conflict of values ​​is strongly felt within Estonian society. Right now there are two possibilities - either we bury our heads under the sand, or we argue about this conflict of values ​​in society. /.../ Such a debate in society must not be feared."

The Riigikogu's constitutional committee, currently going through the amendments, should take into account that the bill might not reach the Riigikogu by its scheduled date of next Monday, Ratas said, adding that the matter does not need to be rushed.

"It is not very sensible to hurry, so that the Committee on Constitutional Affairs would instead require some extra days," he said.

If the bill, which passed its first reading at the Riigikogu on December 14, is held up beyond Monday, it may jeopardize the planned April 18 date for the referendum itself.

The "Esimene stuudio" interview with the prime minister also covered coronavirus vaccinations, recent restrictions and their effect on sport and leisure, and taking out a further state loan versus austerity measures.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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