Social Democratic Party (SDE) chair Indrek Saar said his party would back Kersti Kaljulaid for a second term as Estonian president, adding that if she were not to receive wider backing, the party would consider other candidates. He has also expressed skepticism over the claimed Reform/Center agreement on a candidate.
"Since Estonia must get a president eventually, and it would be good if the Riigikogu could do this task in spite of everything, then, of course, we must all, including the Social Democrats, be ready to consider different candidates," Saar told ERR Thursday.
SDE has 10 seats, far from the 68 needed to elect a president and less than half the 21 votes required to nominate a candidate to run.
Saar welcomed Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas' (Center) convening of a meeting Friday with four of the five parliamentary parties, to discuss the issue and potentially look at his proposal for candidate – which may be academic Tarmo Soomere.
Saar said: "First of all, I am glad that the governing coalition, at least in the person of Jüri Ratas, has realized that in order to be able to, in theory, elect a president at the Riigikogu, it takes a little more than the votes of the coalition."
Reform and Center together have 59 seats, meaning nine more votes would need to be found for their candidate to become president, assuming all Reform and Center MPs voted along official party lines.
Ratas has repeatedly expressed a desire to get the presidential elections, which start August 30, squared away at the Riigikogu rather than going down the road of a protracted process as happened in 2016.
Saar said that SDE had been lobbying for a meeting like Friday's in any case.
He said: "We have also for two weeks been publicly demanding that we get to the point where we will start talking to other parties as well, and a meeting would take place."
"Whether this meeting will have an outcome is very difficult to say, and it depends on how the convener of the meeting plans things. The main plus is that we will at least meet, even though this could all have happened several months ago," Saar went on.
Saar's party, SDE, together with Ratas', the Center Party, that of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas – Reform, and the opposition Isamaa party will be at Friday's meeting, via their Riigikogu party group chairs.
Ratas, as Riigikogu speaker, is responsible for the chamber's business in any case. Parliament is on its summer recess at present.
Only the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) is going its own way, with former speaker Henn Põlluaas declaring his intention to run and currently engaged in a canvassing tour of Estonia.
As to the current incumbent, Saar said that he has repeatedly stated that if Reform supports Kaljulaid, so will SDE, but at the same time if a suitable candidate was found elsewhere that Center and Reform agree on, then that would be one alternative.
Saar says that he thinks Reform and Center have not struck an agreement, however, and noted that tensions present when Ratas was in office as prime minister with EKRE and Isamaa have not gone away.
"To date, it is quite clear that no such agreement has been reached, plus the Center Party has, in a rather brutal way, expressed its opposition to Kaljulaid, incriminating the president in relation to everything they did in the government to quell society. In this situation, there is probably no reason to hope that the Center Party could consider continuing with Kaljulaid."
The Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition with Ratas as prime minister – he had already held the post for two-and-a-half years in an earlier coalition without EKRE and with Saar's party – was born in controversy, with the president donning a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "Sõna on vaba" ("Speech is free", or more literally, "the word is free" - a play on an earlier EKRE slogan) during the swearing-in ceremony.
Other issues brought up in relation to any presidential candidate include foreign policy and the need for connections at the highest international level. EKRE has tended to be more inward-looking and, judging by the Hungarian flag which Henn Põlluaas has been flying alongside the Estonian blue-black-white at his recent rallies, modeled somewhat along the lines of Viktor Orban's government in that country.
Presidential candidates do not have to formally declare until four days before the election, on or around August 26.
Editor: Andrew Whyte