'Rahva teenrid': Ratas becoming president cannot be ruled out

Huko Aaspõllu, Sulev Vedler and Aivar Hundimägi.
Huko Aaspõllu, Sulev Vedler and Aivar Hundimägi. Source: ERR

Journalists analyzing the presidential election on the Vikerraadio "Rahva teenrid" talk show found on Saturday that Tarmo Soomere, who was recently rejected by Riigikogu parties, could run again should the election move to the Electoral College, and that Jüri Ratas becoming president still cannot be ruled out.

"What surprised me is how quickly it was decided that Soomere would not get the support of parties [in the Riigikogu]. When [President of the Riigikogu, Center Party leader] Jüri Ratas and [Prime Minister, Reform Party head] Kaja Kallas proposed his candidacy and launched consultations… Ratas is in the habit of dragging things out and is usually not one to give up right away. Therefore, yesterday's news that Soomere is done came as a bit of a surprise," Aivar Hundimägi from daily Äripäev said.

Sulev Vedler from Eesti Ekspress remarked that Soomere should have enough support to run in the Electoral College should the Riigikogu fail to elect the president. "As I see it, things started going wrong for him once he said he has nothing against gay marriage or a major pulp mill being constructed. That is when opposition became visible," Vedler said.

ERR journalist Huko Aaspõllu suggested the Center Party was not behind Soomere all the way. "It is likely some people were against it in the party as Center would have presented Soomere as their candidate otherwise."

"Considering that Ratas and Kallas proposed Soomere's candidacy together, both parties remained very cautious in their messages following their meetings with Soomere – they said that they would consider, wait and see. This suggests that Soomere did not have solid support inside the coalition either," Hundimägi said. "I have also heard that some Reform Party members are bothered by Soomere's own activism and would prefer the party picking a candidate and asking them to run instead."

Aaspõllu said that Soomere could have hurt himself by telling the Social Democrats how he supports gay marriage, while assuring members of Isamaa he supports the traditional family model at their meeting. "Telling different people different things and hoping they do not talk among themselves is a little misguided. He should have stuck with a single message. Besides, Reform and Center were not willing to back him either – he was tested and found to be wanting," Aaspõllu said.

"However, should the Riigikogu fail to get the next president elected, with the process moving to the Electoral College, Soomere will have better chances there as he is now well-known and people know where he stands. It definitely did not hurt his campaign. The only problem is that parties should want to sponsor him too," Hundimägi opined.

Aaspõllu said he cannot see anyone interested in setting up Soomere. "And even if Soomere manages to find someone to set him up as a candidate in the college, I see no chance of him being elected," the ERR journalist added.

Hundimägi said, when commenting on Sulev Vedler's remark about Conservative People's Party (EKRE) candidate Henn Põlluaas touring the country [as the opposition leader's presidential hopeful], that Soomere has been doing the same. "I saw him in Kunda myself. Soomere has said that he is betting on electors. He believes that he has enough support to be set up in the college should he fail to secure the parliament."

"As concerns Põlluaas' campaign, it is clearly aimed at promoting EKRE in the local government council elections context, whereas Põlluaas is not really planning on becoming president," Aaspõllu found. "I regard those chances near nonexistent compared to other potential candidates," he said.

For Aaspõllu, the real question is why are other parties not pursuing similar nationwide campaigns, why haven't they chosen a dignified person with whom to tour Estonia and attend public events to mobilize potential voters.

"Those people exist. The Social Democrats have voiced support for President Kersti Kaljulaid, while the Center Party has toyed with the idea of Ratas as president," Hundimägi offered.

He believes the coalition does not want the process moving into the Electoral College. "That would make EKRE a factor, which is why the coalition should find a candidate who can secure the support of at least either Isamaa or the Social Democratic Party (SDE). If Soomere was said to be weak in foreign policy, perhaps this holds a clue as to who might be the next candidate. I expect Jüri Luik to run," Hundimägi said.

Aaspõllu pointed out that Luik has said he does not wish to run on several occasions and that it remains unclear whether he would have the votes. "Talking about the Electoral College, Reform and Center should have enough delegates there to elect the president between them. Even though they likely lack motivation to see the process move there," Aaspõllu added.

He pointed out that Kersti Kaljulaid is also campaigning. "The president's team is trying to get her on the air or in print every chance. She likely believes the situation could reach a point where people give up and say – fine, let her stay on!"

Aaspõllu also said that Jüri Ratas still has a chance to become president even though he has said he does not plan to run.

"I also believe that parties finding themselves short on time for finding a candidate would benefit Ratas," Hundimägi said.

Aaspõllu said that it is probable Center's right to find the candidate is part of its coalition agreement with Reform. "This means Center could have a lot more say when it comes to presidential candidates. And in a hypothetical situation where electing the president fails in both the Riigikogu and the Electoral College, Ratas might say that he is willing to step in for Estonia and to serve the people despite having been reluctant in the past," Aaspõllu said.

This prompted Hundimägi to say that Ratas becoming president would leave the Center Party in a difficult position, which might be part of Reform's motivation to support such a turn of events. "Because if we imagine a situation where Riigikogu elections are looming, the fact Mailis Reps is out of the game, that Ratas would be president and Kadri Simson still in Brussels… who would be the new leader of the Center Party?" he asked.

Vedler mentioned Jaak Aab and Mihhail Kõlvart. Aaspõllu added that Jaanus Karilaid is campaigning and that [Minister of Health and Labor] Tanel Kiik cannot be ruled out.

"Yes, the party leader becoming president could herald some uncertainty, while it would be a personal victory for everyone named here, with everyone having something to gain," Aaspõllu reasoned. "Moreover, looking at Ratas' current position as Riigikogu speaker, which is a rather lofty office, where could he go from there? Support for Center is falling and the party is likely looking at a poorer election result in Tallinn than last time. It may lose its hegemony in the capital. Do we know what will happen at parliamentary elections? We do not. Whereas the party's rating staying its recent course gives little hope for Ratas to return as PM. No one is likely to make him a commissioner. So, there are a lot of motivators at play here."

Vedler said that Ratas has considered leaving party politics once when he ran for president of the Estonian Olympic Committee.

"Let us hope we will gain some clarity as heads of parties are set to discuss the matter again on Monday. I consider probable signals according to which people already mentioned are also being considered, and it is possible for [Isamaa member] Jüri Luik to surface once more," Aaspõllu said.

"If Isamaa had a candidate both Center and Reform could get behind, the problem of finding a president would be solved and they would be elected in the Riigikogu," Hundimägi remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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