The Center Party supports national museum (ERM) director Alar Karis as presidential candidate, ahead of the election process starting a week on Monday. Center's coalition partner, Reform, had already pledged its support for Karis, meaning he should have 59 votes in favor at the 101-seat Riigikogu. Sixty-eight or more votes are needed to get elected head of state.
Center made its announcement Sunday following a board meeting (see gallery above). Seventy-nine Center Party board members voted in favor of Karis as presidential candidate, and 12 voted against.
The party's leader, Jüri Ratas, who first proposed Karis last Tuesday, said on Sunday that: "From the start, the Center Party has emphasized that our goal is to elect a new president for the whole of Estonia at the Riigikogu. Today, as a result of talks, we have come to the conclusion that Alar Karis is not only a good candidate, but he could also get wider support among MPs."
The opposition Isamaa (12 seats) and Social Democratic (11 seats) parties have not pledged their support for Karis, or for anyone else, as yet. If one of the two parties were to vote for Karis also, this would push his vote tally beyond the 68 threshold.
The Social Democratic Party are meeting with Karis on Monday at 11.00 a.m., while Isamaa will meet him at 1.30 p.m. on the same day, ERR reports. The parties will finalize their position on his candidacy after these meetings
The Reform Party announced they had put their support behind Karis on Thursday, meaning the coalition is united.
Ratas and Karis met to discuss the matter last Monday, August 15, with the Center Party leader announcing his endorsement of Karis the following morning. Karis announced he had agreed to run later that day.
A previous potential candidate, academic Tarmo Soomere, had also been proposed by Center, but did not pick up enough support from any of the other parties after meeting with them.
Ratas, who as Riigikogu speaker will be overseeing the election process, thanked both Soomere and Karis for considering running.
Ratas said: "These have been very complex and responsible decisions, which is why I want to acknowledge everyone who was ready to discuss, think through and find common ground in order to find the best president for Estonia."
The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has put up its own candidate, former speaker Henn Põlluaas, but with 19 seats the party would need at least two MPs from other parties for Põlluaas to even run – 21 votes are required to be an official candidate.
Ratas cited Karis' former stint as auditor general, a post he held 2013-2018, as also being advantages he would bring to the role
Karis' answers to Center Party members' questions gave confidence in his suitability, Ratas added.
Ratas also said that getting a president voted at the Riigikogu, rather than having a protracted process involving the regional electoral colleges, as happened in 2016, was now viable, but depended on the other parties.
Reform and Center together may still have enough votes in the electoral colleges for Karis to get the necessary majority, should it go down that route, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.
Read more about the presidential election process, which starts Monday, August 30, here.
Current president Kersti Kaljulaid is eligible for a second consecutive term, and has also said she would also be prepared to run
This article was updated to report how Center's board members voted.
Editor: Andrew Whyte