Sildam: Jüri Ratas has two weeks to make decision on presidential elections

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

While Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas rebutted any claims of him becoming the next President of Estonia four months ago, his "yes" or "no" has now become the key factor of parties even beginning to look for other candidates. Ratas has promised he will decide on running for president in May, ERR's Toomas Sildam writes.

In December of 2020, Jüri Ratas was on ETV+ and the prime minister at the time ruled out any possibility of him running for president in 2021. "It is absolutely not on my mind. I have not even thought about it. Fortune tellers can think about it. I am trying to do real things," Ratas responded to a question about him running in the next presidential elections.

On January 5, a week before his government collapsed, Ratas told ETV's "Esimene stuudio" that he is sure he will not run for president. "[That thought] has no substance in 2021. My response is honest. I am not thinking about it now and will not do so tomorrow," he said. "But I am convinced that Estonia will get a good president this year."

But a month after he resigned as prime minister, Ratas told ERR that he is free of government responsibilities and was a lot more vague when asked about running for president in 2021. "The truth is that Center wants to have a say in picking a president, we have said that the president should be someone who builds bridges, connects Estonia," the party chairman said and added with a smile: "My response to you is that Center will decide these things in May."

Ratas added then that in August and September this year, "the aim should be to choose the president in the Riigikogu". At the same time, he admitted that the new Reform-Center coalition had not agreed on a common presidential candidate.

"What is important is who is the President of the Republic of Estonia, what are their characteristics, their visions. If we look at Estonian society in 2021, Estonia needs to strengthen its position in foreign policy, but it is also important that the president is always facing national issues, they are a president to connect Estonia," Ratas said.

Center secretary general Andre Hanimägi confirms that May is still the deadline for when the party chairman and current Riigikogu speaker is set to make a decision on whether or not he will run in the next presidential elections. "There are still two weeks until May," Hanimägi said comfortingly.

Ratas' decision was certainly made more difficult by a story in weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) last week, which took a look into and published expenses made during his term in office. Center, and not just them alone, saw it as an attempt to sway the possible decision to run. Even University of Tartu professor Tiit Hennoste did not doubt that "in timing, this all goes with a presidential campaign".

Ekspress journalist Holger Roonemaa has ruled out any connection to a presidential campaign. Yet, if we speculate that just a dozen days ago, Ratas did not plan on running, many of his close ones now believe he cannot give it up as otherwise he would succumb to media pressure.

If Ratas wishes to participate in the presidential elections, Center's partner in government - Reform - has to decide if they will support him or instead find an alternative candidate, which would bring the current relationship great uncertainty.

If Ratas were to continue as Riigikogu speaker, a role which he certainly gives more substance to than his predecessors, the coalition can freely discuss who could be the next head of state - could it be Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, former defense and foreign affairs minister Jüri Luik, former state auditor-general and current national museum director Alar Karis, President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere, former Bank of Estonia governor and current adviser to the prime minister Ardo Hansson... These are just names that have come up often in the public when speaking about the elections.

Over the last weeks, current president Kersti Kaljulaid has also noted she is prepared another five years in office if there was enough political backing for her continuation. "I have clearly stated that I would never say 'no' to my country," she said in a recent interview to regional daily Lääne Elu.

Presidential elections will begin on August 30 in the Riigikogu.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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