Toomas Sildam: Four parties needed to elect the president

Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas at the Victory Day parade in Paide, June 23 2021.
Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas at the Victory Day parade in Paide, June 23 2021. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The search for candidate for president has landed back on square one. President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere, whose name was put forward by Center Party leader, President of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas, does not have enough support in the Riigikogu. Journalist Toomas Sildam asks what next in his weekly comment.

Let us presume political parties mean what they say and really want to elect Estonia's next president in the Riigikogu, that no one is playing checkers instead of chess. Things are simple in that case. Because the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) sees its member Henn Põlluaas, who is touring the country in a van bearing his likeness and name, as the next president, the matter will be decided by the 82 MPs of other Riigikogu parties. That is how many votes the Reform Party, Center Party, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) have between them.

A candidate needs at least 68 votes to be elected president in the parliament. The arithmetic is simple: electing the next head of state in the parliament would require the votes of Center and Reform plus either Isamaa or SDE. In truth, keeping in mind that people take ill and that personal antipathies cannot be ruled out, electing the president in the Riigikogu requires a favorite supporter by all four – the coalition and the opposition, with the exception of EKRE.

While the Social Democrats could remain hesitant at first as they have voiced support for President Kersti Kaljulaid, Reform, Center and Isamaa getting behind a common candidate would likely see them fall in line as they do not want to be the ones to derail the election.

Politicians will find a serious candidate only once the heads of all four parties pool their efforts to find one. It cannot be a solo by the leader of either Reform or Center, proposing a nice person others could either support or oppose. It also cannot be a power play by the former two, with smaller parties expected to go along with it. It can only be a decision discussed and debated between four parties.

Such an agreement transcending parties would be needed for a serious candidate to even agree to run. No one wants to be put through that bouncy castle only to be told they do not have the required support at the end of the day. What happened to Tarmo Soomere will not soon be forgotten.

Traveler, entrepreneur and social thinker Tiit Pruuli answered the question of the kind of president Estonia needs in an interview to ERR, talking about Estonia 30 years after restoration of independence: "A nervous grimace has appeared in the otherwise sunny and down-to-earth countenance. A twitch in the cheek..."

Indeed. The president of Estonia cannot be arrogant or self-centered. They need to be confident, able to explain Estonia to the world and vice versa and unite as many of our people as possible – to be a comprehensible head of state for them, also through their past work. However, it is objectively impossible for them to be everyone's president, Pruuli said. No one can do that.

Actual, as opposed to seeming, support from the coalition and a large part of the opposition for a presidential candidate will serve as a starting point for credibility following their election. The four parliament parties still have time to find a common candidate if all keep to their word. True, time is of the essence.

But again, electing the president will be four and not two Riigikogu parties, while two of them – Reform and Center – are responsible for mobilizing the other two.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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