Center leader Ratas may endorse Tarmo Soomere as presidential candidate

Tarmo Soomere.
Tarmo Soomere. Source: ERR

Center Party leader and speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas may be proposing academic Tarmo Soomere as a presidential candidate, ERR reports.

Ratas and Prime Minister and Reform Party leader and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced Monday that they had found a common candidate to present to the other Riigikogu parties.

Reform and Center are in office together.

Tarmo Soomere has been President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia) since 2014. While his name has been linked in the media with a presidential bid since March, confirming a willingness himself to run, he had not had the backing of any political heavyweight earlier on.

Presidents are elected via a process of Riigikogu ballots which, should these prove inconclusive, move to rounds at the regional electoral colleges. Ratas, who as speaker oversees Riigikogu business, has multiple times expressed a desire to get the president elected at the Riigikogu rather than having a protracted process as happened in 2016. He ruled out running for the office himself at the beginning of June.

Ratas said of Soomere that: "His name should not come as a surprise to parliamentary chairmen," and hopes that sufficient support will come from Ratas' own party, from Reform, and also from the opposition Isamaa and Social Democractic Party (SDE).

A minimum of 68 votes are required to elect a president at the 101-seat chamber. Reform and Center between them have 59 seats, so would require another nine MPs to vote with them, assuming there is unanimity among the MPs of the two coalition parties. Isamaa has 12 seats, SDE 10.

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), with whom Ratas was in office April 2019-January 2021, already has its own presidential candidate, former Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas, who has been on the campaign trail around Estonia recently.

This year's presidential elections start at the end of August, just weeks before the local elections on October 17; parties had been expected to engage in canvassing for that from August onward, and the Riigikogu's regular sessions start a couple of weeks later than usual, in mid-September, to take that, and also the presidential elections themselves, into account.

Ratas is to convene a meeting Friday to introduce his choice of candidate to the four parties' chairs, ERR reports, with that candidate reportedly likely to be Soomere.

Tarmo Soomere confirmed to ERR on March 19 that he would run as president, were he asked to by politicians, adding that no conversations along those lines had taken place at that point.

One source from among Estonia's ranks of politicians noted that Soomere would be a candidate: "Not with more supporters so much as fewer opponents."

Incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid is eligible to run for a second consecutive term and has not ruled it out, though has been dubbed a polarizing figure by some politicians.

Reform and Center have said a compromise candidate is being sought, while Center's Riigikogu group chair, Jaanus Karilaid, said earlier in the week that there were eight or nine candidates on the table, with the shortlist of these likely to be made public next week.

If the political party chairs do not oppose Soomere's candidacy when it is presented to them Friday, the next stage would most likely involve him meeting each party group to answer questions on domestic and international politics.

The Estonian constitution explicitly states that the president represents Estonia in its international relations.

A politician source told ERR that: "If Jüri Ratas' proposal is attractive to other party leaders, then Soomere's meetings with the political groups will be a serious test of what type of president we would get from him, how sharp his domestic political viewpoints are and how far his foreign policy view goes."

Other names linked with the role have included former defense minister Jüri Luik, and lawyer and former Bank of Estonia governor Jüri Raidla.

Both men turned down any potential offer of a presidential bid. Luik is now Estonia's ambassador to NATO, while Jüri Raidla said he did not feel he had the requisite foreign policy knowledge for the job.

Soomere's candidacy had been proposed by local electoral alliance in Saku, near Tallinn – "Roheline Saku Vald" – whose roster included Mart Opmann, finance minister in the late 1990s and former director of the Saku Institute of Agriculture (Saku Maaviljeluse Instituut) Arvo Sirendi.

Potential candidates require a minimum of 21 votes in support to even run for the office.

Presidents may not belong to any political party, and must leave any party they may be a member of before taking office.

The presidential elections start at the Riigikogu on August 30.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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