Party leaders: Jüri Ratas not yet approached us on potential presidency bid

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Jüri Ratas in the Riigikogu building. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Leaders of Estonia's political parties say that just as Jüri Ratas (Center) has not publicly thrown his hat in the ring as to a potential presidential bid later this year, he has not approached them privately, in an effort to sound out their support, either. The Reform Party does not seem to be as firmly behind a second term for the incumbent, Kersti Kaljulaid, as it had earlier been, however.

Reform leader and prime minister Kaja Kallas said Tuesday that while her party was, last year, fully in support of Kersti Kaljulaid obtaining a second consecutive term come the autumn, the difference now is that they are no longer in opposition.

"We have perhaps not been such king-makers," Kallas said on Vikerraadio show "Stuudios on peaminister" Tuesday afternoon.

"The presidential election this year has moved closer, and of course the current president's name is one of those which has gone through [to the list of potential candidates."

Kersti Kaljulaid herself has not formally declared she is running either. Last autumn she launched a bid to become the next OECD Secretary General, which had she clinched the role would have meant a presidential bid was off the table.

Kallas did not rule anything in or out, but said that Reform and Center, both in office together now, informally talk about things all the time.

But should Jüri Ratas want Reform's backing, it needs to be discussed at party level, Kallas said, noting he had not declared his intentions at present.

One thing she did say was that any future president should be: "An individual who has a strong backbone, and who also represents Estonia well overseas. This means that talks like these are ongoing, in order to find and agree on such an individual."

The presidential elections take place every five years, from the end of August, through September, depending on how things go. Should initial ballots at the Riigikgou – where Ratas is speaker – prove inconclusive (the five parties will declare in favor of a candidate and/or put up their own candidate), the focus moves to a regional system of electoral colleges (which includes some MPs) and, if this draws a blank too, a council of Riigikogu elders will have the final say. This is the route via which Kersti Kaljulaid became president in the autumn of 2016.

An added piece of the jigsaw arises from the fact that the local elections come in October as well.

Jüri Ratas has not nominated himself as a potential candidate, though speculation on the likelihood of him doing so has been rife.

Leader of Reform's Riigikogu faction, Mart Võrklaev, told ERR Tuesday afternoon that the group had not discussed the presidential elections yet, and that Ratas had not approahched them, to his knowledge.

EKRE may put up Henn Põlluaas

Former speaker and chair of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia's Riigikogu group (EKRE) Henn Põlluaas says that his party has opted to run its own candidate rather than back another, adding that candidate would most likely be none other than he himself.

Põlluaas added that Ratas has not approached his party either – though party leader, Martine Helme, has recently said Ratas would be a suitable presidential candidate.

Center and EKRE were in office together, with Isamaa, April 2019-January 2021.

SDE leader: No party group is going to say: 'Oh yes, he came and asked for our support'

Chair of the opposition Social Democrats (SDE) added that his party had not been approached by Ratas either, though noted that: "These things are not done in such a way that anyone can tell the journalist that 'yes, he came to ask us for support.' But certainly no one is saying 'yes, he has officially asked for support'."

Saar also said that given Ratas' coalition record – having been in office with EKRE and Isamaa – that made backing him from an SDE perspective complicated.

The party does not have a unified candidate of its own, he added.

Isamaa chair: President should be picked by Riigikogu

Meanwhile, Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said the case was same with his party, that Ratas had not approached the party and that he could not speak on behalf of the party on whether they would support his candidacy.

As wide a net as possible should be cast in finding the optimum candidate – meaning Isamaa would only put up a candidate of its own on the basis of that approach – adding that the presidential elections this time around ought to be decided at the Riigikogu.

The Riigikogu voting stages see candidates run off against each other. A minimum of 20 percent of Riigikogu MPs must support a candidate in order for them to run, while two-thirds of the 101-seat chamber need to vote in favor of a candidate in order for them to be chosen (i.e. the candidate must get 68 or more votes), meaning that a scenario where two strong candidates run against each other, or alternatively where several candidates of roughly equal support are running, can lead to voting proving inconclusive.

The latter scenario happened in 2016. Toomas Hendrik Ilves comfortably clinched his second term in 2011 in the final run-off against Indrek Tarand.

Only one candidate is reported to have declared so far - academic Tarmo Soomere. Other touted candidates who have not declared include justice chancellor Ülle Madise, and former defense minister Jüri Luik, in addition to Ratas and Kaljulaid.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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