Former speaker: Coalition looking for presidential pawn it can control

Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) on the presidential campaign trail.
Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) on the presidential campaign trail. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Presidential potential candidate and former Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) says that the coalition is looking for a lap-dog in its candidate compromise. At the same time, he says he does not think the Riigikogu rounds of balloting will be successful in appointing Estonia's next president, adding that while he would be up to the task himself, the lack of privacy the office brings with it would be an issue.

Speaking to Vikerraadio morning show "Vikerhommik" Wednesday, Põlluaas said of the recent announcement from the leaders of Reform and Center that they had found a common candidate, whom they did not name, that: "Obviously, a puppet is being sought to follow the will of the coalition," adding that he feels the Riigikogu ballot rounds will prove inconclusive.

Were this to happen, voting continues in the regional electoral colleges before moving back to the Riigikogu if this also draws a blank. Final say lies with a council of Riigikogu elders, consisting of the speaker and their two deputies, along with the five parties' parliamentary group chairs. This was the route by which Kersti Kaljulaid became president in 2016.

Põlluaas gave as his reason for pessimism about the Riigikogu factors relating to personal preferences and antipathies – in other words, MPs are not likely to fully follow party lines at all times, he said.

Põlluaas has declared his intention to run, but assuming all 19 EKRE MPs vote in favor of his candidacy, this would require the support of at least two more MPs to obtain a quorum to stand for election.

Two-thirds of the house, or at least 67 votes at the 101-seat chamber, are required for a president to get elected.

In any event, Põlluaas said that privacy issues relating to the office would be a problem for him.

"The president has no private life, no private moments," he said.

"The president cannot get five minutes of private time, and this also affects their family, it bothers them the most," he went on, adding that he was nonetheless used to being in the limelight in his political career up until now.

Põlluaas was Riigikogu speaker for two years, from spring 2019.

The institution of president itself is still needed, he added, noting that calls for cutting costs by transferring some of the presidential duties to the prime minister or the speaker should be rejected, as doing so would lead to a loss of prestige for the office, particularly in the international arena.

At the same time, his experience in having traveled worldwide to meet various heads of state, government members and diplomats, as well as hosting the same in Estonia, makes him suitable for the job, Põlluaas said.

Former justice minister Jüri Raidla, another name recently linked with the job, recently cited a lack of experience in foreign policy as one of his main reasons for declining to run.

Raidla did say that his knowledge of constitutional matters was better and would have been a plus for the role; Henn Põlluaas told "Vikerhommik" that the president has a key role here in any case.

He said: "Coalitions are always skewed; they are made up of certain parties, while the president must be the balancing institution, one that makes sure the laws do not get sideline. If they were in the hands of the speaker of the Riigikogu, or the prime minister, there would be no such supervision, which makes it very important."

Põlluaas is touring Estonia at present in advance of his proposed presidential bid; the local elections follow in October 17, with not only citizens, but also residents of Estonia eligible to vote.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Riigikogu speaker and Center Party leader Jüri Ratas say they have found a common candidate, but have not named him or her.

Center's parliamentary group chair, Jaanus Karilaid, however later said that the figure was more like eight or nine potential candidates, mostly from business and academic backgrounds, with this set to be whittled down to a shortlist by or during next week.

Presidential candidates do not have to declare until four days before the electoral process starts, at the end of August.

Current incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid is eligible for a second, consecutive term.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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