Prime minister optimism on electing president in first round ballot ebbing

Prime minister and Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas in the Vikkeraadio studio.
Prime minister and Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas in the Vikkeraadio studio. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says she has less optimism about the next head of state getting elected straight off the bat on August 30, than she earlier had done. Kallas made her remarks in the light of a compromise candidate, Tarmo Soomere, last week apparently failing to get the required support from among the ranks of her party, along with those of the Center, Isamaa and Social Democratic parties, and an ongoing impasse since then.

Kallas said Monday evening, following more inter-party talks on the issue: "The situation remains unchanged - we're discussing it."

"Not just between the coalition parties but also with the opposition in an effort to find a joint candidate," he added, according to BNS.

Kallas also implied to agricultural weekly Maaleht, in a piece which published Monday evening (link in Estonian) that in the end, it might be the candidate who emerges at the eleventh hour who ends up getting the job, as happened in 2016 with Kersti Kaljulaid.

Kallas told Maaleht that: "Last time, the presidential election took place in such a way that all the candidates who had in all honesty declared right away that they wanted to run for president were all shot down."

Prime minister: Potential candidates put their head above the parapet then get promptly shot down

Several more candidates than have currently declared and are guaranteed sufficient party support to even run (which at present is zero – ed.) emerged in 2016 and yet none of them were elected in the end; Kaljulaid, who is eligible for a second back-to-back term, was drafted in at the last minute from her prior job at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, as a dark horse candidate.

"People debated, met and were shot down miserably in any case. Eventually, someone out whiter than white when the others had been eliminated. Now, everyone wants to be the last to declare, but to shoot down the others," Kallas told Maaleht.

Kallas also told Maaleht that while: "The opposition parties (Isamaa and SDE – ed.) are saying that they want to elect a president on August 30, their actions do not demonstrate this. Whatever candidates we come up with, they do not suit. But then they don't suggest anyone themselves."

SDE leader Indrek Saar has hinted that his party would back Kaljulaid for a second term, if other parties came on board (as they would need to in any case – SDE only has 10 seats – ed.). The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) is going it alone with its own candidate, former speaker Henn Põlluaas. With 19 MPs, EKRE needs the support from other parties' members even for Põlluaas to run – which requires 21 votes in favor – leave alone to become head of state, which requires 68 votes.

"I am less optimistic than I was two weeks ago. That hope is going to go away for me too," Kallas noted.

Kallas: At least five criteria for a suitable candidate

As to possible criteria for a theoretical candidate these must, she said: "Also meet five different conditions. 

"First, that person should be constitutionally fit for the role," Kallas told Maaleht.

"Second, they must agree. Third, at least three parties must agree to their candidacy," she went on – even Reform and Center together only have 59 seats, meaning they require nine more votes from SDE or Isamaa to get their candidate in, even if they agree on who it should be and all their MPs vote the same way.

"Fourth, the candidate's spouse must agree," Kallas went on. Tarmo Soomere referred to ERR's Toomas Sildam's question on whether he was married as a personal question, and would not answer it, during a live interview.

"Fifth, background checks do not reveal anything that would prevent them from running," Kallas went on. At 63, Soomere is old enough to have been an adult towards the end of the Soviet era and as a result his record has been the subject of media scrutiny – a recent article on portal Delfi (link in Estonian) reported that a former KGB deputy commander said there was no record of Soomere's claimed anti-Soviet activities on file, though a subsequent piece in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress (link in Estonian) claims that he was, at the age of 21, in fact, the subject of KGB discussions on his alleged anti-Soviet activities – discussions which involved then-First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Estonian SSR, later president (2001-2006) Arnold Rüütel.

Kallas: Soomere supposed lack of political experience not decisive

Reform MP Jürgen Ligi offered some insight as to why Soomere may not have received the backing of all the Kallas-led party's members, by saying that Soomere lacked a political background.

Kallas rejected a claim that this ran across the Reform Party Riigikogu group, however.

"I do not know why you assume that this was the decisive factor," she said, according to BNS.

"We are looking for a person fit to serve as the president of Estonia, someone who is able to fulfill the accompanying constitutional obligations. These people exist, and they are good, well-respected people. But firstly, they'd also need to consent. This person needs to be backed by at least three parties in the Riigikogu. Thus, they would not be the candidate of a single party or the coalition; they would be a candidate who is found suitable by a larger number of people and who also consents to becoming president," she went on, reiterating remarks made to Maaleht.

Andrus Ansip: Don't respond to criticism with ad homs

Nonetheless, division in the party has been reported recently, albeit on other matters.

Former long-term Reform premier and current MEP Andrus Ansip recently said that had his administration had a figure like current culture minister Anneli Ott (Center) on the team during the Bronze Soldier night riots of April 2007, they would have been ejected from office – on the grounds of working against state interests.

Ott has expressed skepticism over coronavirus vaccines at precisely the time the government has been pushing for increased take-up.

Kallas said at the time that Ansip was: "Always harsher in word than in deed," asking for an example of any minister whom Ansip had actually fired during his tenure.

Ansip responded Tuesday morning, telling Vikerradio show "Uudis+" that: "I understand her – she is under a lot of pressure. Vaccinations in Estonia have not been going very well. Naturally, she is having a hard time. At one time, during my administration, too, a number of ministers had to leave – no matter whether they were from my party or another. It was always possible to talk to partners about what is good for the state and the government.

Villu Reiljan was one who had to step down after a land-swap scandal – he was environment minister in Ansip's first cabinet, while Rein Land stepped down from the post of culture minister, after surviving a no-confidence vote, after charges he had interfered in appointments at cultural weekly Sirp.

As to Kallas' charge that his bark was worse than his bite, Ansip told "Uudis+" that: "What is key is that things get better at present."

"You should not respond by using attacks against a person, she should respond with actions. It is wrong to think that the messenger is guilty. The consequence of this would be that nothing was ever done wrong. The way out of criticism is surely to improve the situation."


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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