Speaker calls Riigikogu presidential election session for August 30

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Flag of the President of the Republic of Estonia. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The presidential elections in Estonia are to start on August 30, following Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas' (Center) announcement that the chamber would be called for an extraordinary sitting on that date.

The Riigikogu breaks up for summer recess Thursday and is not due back for normal business until mid-September, later than usual, to allow MPs time to engage in public canvassing work head of October's local elections.

Estonia's presidents are not elected directly by the people, but via process which starts at the Riigikogu, rolling out to the regional electoral colleges if this draws a blank.

In accordance with the constitution, the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act and the President of the Republic Election Act, BNS reports, speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas – at one point linked with a possible presidential bid himself - has convened an extraordinary session, to take place at the seat of the Riigikogu, Toompea, Tallinn starting at 1 p.m. on Monday, August 30.

The election of the president of the republic is the sole item on the agenda for that session. 

To be nominated as a candidate, an individual must have at least one-fifth of MPs behind them, i.e 21 members of the 101-seat chamber.

An MP may only nominate one candidate.

Putting candidates forward starts at 9 a.m. on the fourth day prior to the beginning of the presidential elections, i.e. on August 26, and ends at 6 p.m. on the second day before the session (i.e. August 28), BNS reports.

Ballots are secret, and a candidate needs two-thirds (i.e. 67) of the house to vote for them in order to become head of state. This last happened with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, nearly 10 years ago.

Should day one of balloting prove inconclusive, a second day of balloting is held.

Should this draw a blank, a run-off is held, on the same day, with the first- and second-placed candidates from the second day of balloting.

If no result is forthcoming from this stage, the speaker will, within one month, convene an electoral college, made up of MPs and local government representatives in each region.

Jüri Ratas has expressed a desire on several occasions to get the process squared away at the Riigikogu.

In 2016, after the electoral college process also proved inconclusive, candidates still in the running stepped down, while Kersti Kaljulaid was brought in from her long-term role at the European Court of Auditors as a "dark horse" candidate, and, as per the constitution, elected by a council of Riigikogu elders, comprising the leaders of the party factions (at the time six, now five) in the chamber, plus the speaker (at the time Eiki Nestor (SDE)) and the speaker's two deputies.

For the president to get elected at the Riigikogu, a cross-party candidate needs to be found – even Reform and Center together have 59 seats and would need eight more MPs to join them even if they did find a common candidate.

Reform leader and prime minister Kaja Kallas recently said, using the words of some of the opposition MPs, that Center had too many question marks hanging over its conduct over the years for a viable candidate to come from its ranks.

Jüri Ratas, who resigned as prime minister in January has taken himself out of the running – or more accurately, declared that he is not in the running – whereas had he been a candidate, Reform would have had to have taken on board the fact that it is in office at the national level with Center, meaning being unable to find a unifying candidate, be it Ratas or anyone else, would put pressure on that alliance.

At the same time, Reform, when in opposition ostensibly fairly behind Kersti Kaljulaid, now seems to have cooled towards a second term for the current incumbent – one which she is eligible for. Opponents of a second Kaljulaid term have said she has proven too divisive in society.

There have been four presidents under Estonia's current constitution, since the restoration of independence in 1991: Lennart Meri, Arnold Rüütel, Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Kersti Kaljulaid.

Presidential terms are five-years and, while more than one back-to-back term is forbidden under the constitution, unlike in the U.S., presidents may hold more than two, non-consecutive terms.

The rationale behind not having direct presidential elections has included an avoidance of the role becoming too politicized. A candidate must quit any political party they may belong to upon being elected.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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