Museum director says 'yes' in answer to presidential bid offer

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ERM director Alar Karis.
ERM director Alar Karis. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonian National Museum (ERM) director Alar Karis has said yes to a proposal to run as president when it was first made on Monday, following a meeting with the chairs of four of the five Riigikogu parties Wednesday morning – Reform, Center, the Social Democrats (SDE) and Isamaa.

Karis told ERR Wednesday afternoon that: "It is true that I informed the speaker of the Riigikogu, Jüri Ratas, that I answered his request in the affirmative," making good on a promise made Wednesday morning that he would give his answer by end of business the same day.

While it was a hard decision, he said, he will now do everything in his power to move things forward, including meeting all those politicians and Riigikogu parties that want it.

He said: "Jüri Ratas made it clear that it would be good if this meeting took place tomorrow [Thursday]," adding that most likely he would meet with Center again first.

The four parties who are negotiating on finding a common presidential candidate – the fifth party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) is going it alone with its own candidate – have already had one apparent possibility in recent weeks, academic Tarmo Soomere, but that fell through due to a lack of support from the parties, making it clear the 68 votes needed to get elected president would not be found.

Karis, who directs the ERM in Tartu and is also both a former auditor general and former rector of Tartu university, had said Wednesday morning that: "It could be stated that the 'yes' elements have converged a little more, as those who I have spoken with, and who I expected would support a 'no' answer from me have taken a different position.," adding he was going to consider it more, find out more from Center, Reform, SDE and Isamaa's expectations and sound them out on whether their desire to find a common candidate was a sincere one.

He answered the last point in the affirmative even on Wednesday morning, saying: "Looking at the politicians, I got the impression that there is such a desire."

Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas (Center), who made the initial request to Karis, director of the Tartu-based ERM, on Monday, has repeatedly said he wants this year's presidential election resolved at the Riigikogu, rather than going through an extended process in the electoral colleges.

For this to happen, Reform and Center's MPs would need to be joined by at least nine more from SDE or Isamaa, to meet the 68 votes required to be elected head of state.

Current incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid said at the beginning of the week that she would also be open to running for a second term.

SDE leader Indrek Saar told ERR that Karis himself had requested the meeting, in order to get a better overview of what the presidential role represents in more detail, adding that no one can guarantee a definite majority for the time being, but that if Karis gives his consent to stand as a candidate, the party groups will meet him.

Karis, 63, is a molecular geneticist and developmental biologist by training, and was rector of the University of Tartu 2007-2012. He was appointed auditor general in March 2013 and, after completing his tenure, as director of the Estonian National Museum in October 2017.

The presidential electoral process starts at the Riigikogu on August 30.

This article was updated to include Alar Karis' declaration that he would run as president pending party support.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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