New prime minister: No unified Center-Reform presidential candidate yet

Kaja Kallas and Mailis Reps during Reform-Center coalition negotiations last week.
Kaja Kallas and Mailis Reps during Reform-Center coalition negotiations last week. Source: ERR

No unified presidential candidate has yet been agreed on between the incoming coalition's two parties, Center and Reform, the latter's leader Kaja Kallas says.

Kallas, who is being appointed prime minister Tuesday, said: "We do not currently have an agreement on this matter," though she did add that a president elected by the electoral college last time around would have been a preferable outcome (in terms of electoral process – ed.) than what actually happened in 2016.

Presidential elections not direct

Estonian presidents are not elected directly by the people, but rather selected via several stages of ballots at the Riigikogu, followed by a national electoral college if this proves inconclusive, and finally by a council of Riigikogu elders, including the speaker and deputy speakers, if a final selection is still found wanting.

Kersti Kaljulaid, who had been working for the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg for around 12 years, was chosen via this last route in late September 2016, after earlier rounds at parliament and the electoral college had not led to any of the earlier candidates – Siim Kallas, Eiki Nestor, Mailis Reps, Alar Jõks, Mart Helme and Marina Kaljurand – being elected.

The Riigikogu ballot system lends itself towards the various parties either separately or together having their own preferred candidates. There are five parties at the current Riigikogu and, now, two in office – Reform and Center – compared with six parties in parliament and three in office when Kersti Kaljulaid became president.

Reform and Center have in the course of their coalition negotiations discussed finding a common presidential candidate who would find broad-based support.

The next presidential elections are due later on this year.

Kaljulaid still in running for OECD spot

Kersti Kaljulaid is through to the second stage of a bid to become the next Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General, a process which will see its final round in March. If she acceded to the post, this would make a second presidential term out-of-the-question.

While the previous coalition of Center/EKRE/Isamaa was in office, it was widely assumed that a second presidential term was off the table, given antagonism between head of state and coalition beginning with the birth of the latter in April 2019, at which Kaljulaid sported a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "Sõna on Vaba" (variously translated as: "The word is free" or "speech is free" and in any case a play on an early EKRE slogan – ed.).

However, the collapse of this line-up and the entry into office of the Reform-Center bipartite coalition headed up by Kaja Kallas (Reform) changes things somewhat.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) has already pledged support for a second Kaljulaid term.

Estonian presidents can serve a maximum of two, five-year terms, consecutively or otherwise.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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