Center not in rush to support Kaljulaid for second term

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Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Center Party has not discussed the matter of presidential nominees, but will do so over the spring, party chairman Jüri Ratas responded to an ERR question about Center's support for President Kersti Kaljulaid to remain in office for a second term after withdrawing from OECD candidacy.

"Center will decide its positions on presidential elections in the spring. As we have not made a decision yet, it is difficult to say if Center would support it. As for OECD, I think it was a necessary step, which Kaljulaid took. I was also supportive of her and I am sorry the president decided to withdraw from candidacy. Estonian people have not reached such high positions unfortunately. And it would have been a great opportunity. But the president assessed her options and made the respective decision," Ratas said.

The coalition agreement drawn up by Reform and Center did not state a common selection for president. Answering a question about if it was more a matter of time or will that a common option was not decided, Ratas said time was not the issue.

"The question was who would that person be, who could gather higher support in Riigikogu than the coalition today. Or who is the person if the process goes to the elecotral college, garnering enough support there. There was no such readiness during the making of the coalition agreement. Center does continue to support that the president should be elected directly going forward, an option our legislation does not give us," Ratas added.

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.

The Reform-Center coalition holds 59 seats of the total 101 seats in Riigikogu, 68 is needed to directly elect a president through the Riigikogu. However, the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) has stated it would support Kaljulaid for a second term, giving the three-party connection 70 votes.

Ratas said both he and the Center Party wish for the next president to be someone capable of building bridges between different worldviews. "Center's position has been for a long time that Estonia's next president should be a man or woman who does everything to build bridges in Estonian society. Whether it be a religious aspect, a worldview aspect. I think it is very important that the coherence of Estonian society would be strong. The nominee should certainly own large-scale support among those who elect the president, but also among Estonian society and people in general. I think the president should be a connector," the previous prime minister said.

Ratas added that Center will form its positions about possible candidates during this year's spring session. He responded to a question about becoming president himself: "Center has not begun discussing it within the party, we are far from a final decision."

Ratas said he rates the likelihood of electing a president through Riigikogu at 50 percent.

The next step in Estonian politics is the elections of a new Riigikogu board in March. Reform has said they will nominate their person for Vice-President of the Riigikogu with Hanno Pevkur the likely name. This would mean the coalition stands behind Center receiving the position of Riigikogu speaker. Ratas admitted that if he is set up to take the post, he would seriously consider it.

"If that proposal comes up, then... I have worked in the board of the Riigikogu for nearly ten years as vice-president. I am certainly ready to consider it strongly, if the proposal comes," Ratas said.

The Riigikogu will begin the election process for a new board in the week beginning on March 22.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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