AK: Riigikogu cagey on next president prognosis

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Kadriorg, seat of the President of the Republic of Estonia, in Kadriorg, Tallinn. Source: President's office.

How the autumn's presidential elections may pan out has been a topic for hot debate, if not among the public, within the Riigikogu – the body which gets the first shot at picking a candidate via a series of ballots. Names have not been announced to the public, who do not get a say in who will be president in any case, yet.

Political scientist Martin Mölder says this time around, stakeholders will be proceeding with caution.

"There will be much less of a campaign, so to speak, that might be typical of a normal election, and much more of an attempt to ensure that there are no setbacks like the last time," Mölder said.

The last presidential elections – which are not direct elections by the people but follow a procedure of Riigikogu ballots followed by regional electoral college ballots should these prove inconclusive – saw Kersti Kaljulaid chosen, but only after the two voting arenas just noted drew a blank. Kaljulaid, who had worked for many years at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, was picked by a Riigikogu council of elders.

Martin Mölder says that despite this, the Riigikogu rounds are unlikely to produce a winner either.

He said: "That would require one candidate with very, very broad support. If we look at the positions which the parties are currently taking, I do not see any candidates with such broad support."

Only two candidates have publicly declared so far – on of them academic Tarmo Soomere. Kersti Kaljulaid is eligible for a second consecutive, five-year term, while much attention has been placed on Jüri Ratas (Center), former prime minister and current Riigikogu speaker, though he, too, has not yet thrown his hat into the ring. Former defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) and justice chancellor Ülle Madise are other names which have been mentioned.

Riigikogu members themselves have been quietly questioning whether the five parties might between them find a unified candidate for some time, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday evening.

Parties can put up a candidate themselves, or pledge their support for another candidate. A potential candidate must first find 20 percent support at the 101-seat Riigikogu to run in the first place, and two thirds of votes (68 or more) must be clinched to become the next head of state.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told AK that: "At the moment, consultations are taking place between different parties, primarily on whether it is viable to find a common candidate who could also be elected at the Riigikogu, and also what the pinch points are which need to be identified to avoid what happened last time."

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme has in the past said he thought Ratas, with whom his party was in office in the coalition April 2019-January 2021, would be a suitable presidential candidate.

On Wednesday, Helme told AK that: "The main issue now is that [Ratas] still has not very clearly told anyone the decision he plans to make, i.e. whether he wants to run for office or not. I think if Jüri Ratas decides that he is definitely in this game and wants to, he would be a strong candidate.".

Deputy chair of Ratas' party, Jaanus Karilaid, told AK Ratas has pledged to make a decision in the next two-to-three weeks. If he were to become president, Center would need to start looking for a new leader, as the sitting head of state is supposed to be apolitical.

Martin Helme added that the Riigikogu has been questioning for some time the likelihood of the Riigikogu being the venue where the next president is elected. With 59 seats, the Reform-Center coalition would need to find votes from the opposition seats made up of EKRE, the Social Democrats (SDE) and Isamaa.

EKRE's Riigikogu group leader and former speaker Henn Põlluaas has, at the same time, said that he will run.

Ratas is Põlluaas' successor and how the dynamics of his being President of the Riigikogu (i.e. speaker) while he presides over the very elections which might see him as a candidate as President of the Republic was not reported.

The Riigikogu balloting starts at the end of August, while the electoral process can run through September, and even into October, if the earlier rounds prove inconclusive.

The picture is also affected by the fact that the parties will be by then campaigning for the local elections, which take place on October 17 (though campaign advertising will be barred from six weeks before polling day).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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