Journalists Huko Aaspõllu (ERR), Sulev Vedler (Eesti Ekspress) and Aivar Hundimägi (Äripäev) found on the "Rahva teenrid" talk show on Saturday that with Tarmo Soomere all but out of running for the presidential seat, the candidacy of former prime minister Jüri Ratas cannot be ruled out. There are more options, however.
Aivar Hundimägi said he was surprised by how fast the decision of Tarmo Soomere not gathering enough votes from parties was made. "I thought that since [Center Party chairman, Riigikogu speaker] Jüri Ratas and [Reform Party chairwoman, prime minister] Kaja Kallas introduced Soomere as a candidate and began consultations with two opposition parties, Jüri Ratas would delay the process and not give up right away. That is why the announcement of Soomere failing to get enough support was surprising," the Äripäev journalist analyzed.
Sulev Vedler said Soomere should still have enough support to run in electoral colleges, if no president is elected in the Riigikogu. "I think things started to go sideways after [Soomere] said he has nothing against same-sex marriage and that he would support a pulp mill. You could see a clear resistance developing then," the Ekspress journalist noted.
Huko Aaspõllu did not agree with a statement about Center supporting Soomere as a candidate. "There were likely people there opposed to it, otherwise Center would have said Soomere is our candidate," the ERR journalist said.
Hundimägi said messages from Center and Reform got much more careful after Ratas and Kallas introduced the scientist as a candidate. "They said we are considering, looking, thinking about it. This pointed to Soomere not having too much support event within the coalition," Hundimägi said.
The Äripäev journalist said he has heard of Reform politicians not liking how active Soomere has been in search of a presidential position and that some party members would have liked to see a candidate that has been approached by the party.
Aaspõllu said Soomere's candidacy might have ended when he told the Social Democratic Party (SDE) in a meeting on Tuesday that he was not opposed to same-sex marriage and later told Isamaa Party that he was supportive of traditional family models. "He should have stayed with one message. And it is not like Center and Reform were prepared to support him from the start - they tried and saw that it was not a fit," Aaspõllu said.
Hundimägi pointed out that if no candidate is elected in the Riigikogu, Soomere's chances go up again because he is now a known name with already stated positions.
Aaspõllu said he does not see anyone that would want to stand behind Soomere's candidacy. "And even if [Soomere] finds the people setting him up in the electoral college, I do not think there is a chance he would get elected," the journalist said.
Vedler pointed out that EKRE's candidate and former Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas is campaigning across Estonia, but Hundimägi noted that Soomere did something similar. "I saw him in Kunda this summer. Soomere has said his contribution was made on the electoral college. He believes that if he does not get enough support in the Riigikogu, he has enough to be elected through the colleges," Hundimägi said.
Aaspõllu said Põlluaas' campaign is more likely a campaign for EKRE in the upcoming local elections in October. He noted that the former Riigikogu speaker cannot realistically be planning on becoming president.
Aaspõllu wondered why other parties are not campaigning, as EKRE is, nor have they found a dignified person to introduce as a candidate in Estonian counties to mobilize voters. Hundimägi responded and said some parties have made claims toward some candidates - SDE is supportive of current president Kersti Kaljulaid, Center has toyed with the idea of Jüri Ratas becoming president.
Hundimägi thinks the coalition does not want the process heading to the regional colleges whatsoever and is trying to find a candidate that one of Isamaa or SDE would support. "The criticism on Soomere was that he is not strong in foreign policy, then perhaps this is a hint for another candidate - perhaps they need to be strong in foreign policy. I expect Jüri Luik (Isamaa) to run," Hundimägi said.
Candidates need to win 21 or more votes from the 101-seat Riigikogu to officially run as a presidential candidate and must win at least 67 votes to become president. In the current government, the coalition parties have a total of 59 seats, Reform has 34 and Center 25. Eight more are needed to elect a president. EKRE has 19, Isamaa 12 and SDE 10 seats.
Aaspõllu pointed out that Luik has stated on several occasions that he does not want to run and is not sure if he would have the necessary support. "But speaking of electoral colleges, Reform and Center should hypothetically have enough members to get someone elected. Although they do not have the motivation to send presidential elections to the colleges," the ERR journalist said.
He noted that current president Kersti Kaljulaid is also campaigning. "The president's team is trying to get her on the air or in the papers by any means possible. She seemingly thinks the situation could eventually end up at a point where there has been too much confusion and politicians just say: 'Alright, let her continue!'" Aaspõllu said.
He emphasized that Jüri Ratas is still an option even if he has ruled out running. Hundimägi agreed and noted that as the anxiety to find a president grows, it is only set to benefit the Center Party chairman.
Aaspõllu said it is likely that Center has the right to present a presidential candidate as part of the coalition agreement with Reform, which the parties agreed to after Ratas resigned in January. "Based on that, Center has more influence when it comes to introducing presidential candidates. And in an example, where elections have failed in the Riigikogu and the electoral colleges, Ratas would say: 'If you come to me and ask, I am prepared to serve the Estonian state, eventhough I have said I do not want it,'" Aaspõllu said.
Hundimägi noted that Ratas becoming president would lead to a complicated period for Center in domestic policy and it could be an argument, which would lead Reform to support the idea. "If we think about the upcoming Riigikogu elections and Mailis Reps is out of the game, Ratas is president and Kadri Simpson is in Brussels, who would become the leader of Center?" the journalist asked.
Vedler pointed out Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab and Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart. Aaspõllu said Center's Riigikogu faction head Jaanus Karilaid is also campaigning and Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik cannot be ruled out, either.
"Yes, if the party chairman becomes president, the party would be looking at instability, but it would be a victory to all these names we mentioned, which is why they all have something to gain from it," Aaspõllu said.
"In addition, if we look at Ratas' current position as Riigikogu speaker, also a dignified position, where can he move forward from there? Center's support is dropping, the party is likely looking at a worse result from local elections than the last time. Their dominance in Tallinn could fade. Do we know what will happen in the Riigikogu elections? We do not. But if the party support continues in this trend, it is not likely Ratas would become prime minister. He likely will not be sent to be a commissioner somewhere. There is much motivation here," Aaspõllu said.
Vedler noted Ratas has considered dropping party politics before when he was running for president of the Estonian Olympic Committee. Aaspõllu said party leaders should discuss the topic again on Monday and it is likely that the aforementioned names could come up, including Jüri Luik.
Hundimägi said that if Isamaa would have a candidate suitable enough for Reform and Center, the problem would be solved and a president would be elected in the Riigikogu.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste