Riigikogu party groups from the opposition Social Democratic (SDE) and Isamaa parties are meeting with national museum director (ERM) Alar Karis on Monday, before deciding whether to support his candidacy as president. If just one of the two parties backs him, and its MPs vote for him, the 68-vote threshold needed to get elected would be passed.
Karis, a former auditor general who has been director of the Tartu-based ERM since 2018, meets with the SDE Riigikogu group at 11.00 a.m. Monday, followed by a meeting with Isamaa at 1.30 pm.
The SDE meeting is to be broadcast live by ERR's Estonian-language web news here.
The two coalition parties, Reform and Center, have already agreed to back Karis after meetings late last week. This means that if all MPs vote in favor in the first round ballot on August 30, Karis would receive 59 votes. SDE has 11 seats, Isamaa 12, giving enough votes from just one of these parties to surpass the 68-vote benchmark.
Twenty-one votes are actually first required at the Riigikogu for an individual to run as a candidate.
Riigikogu speaker and Center Party leader Jüri Ratas has repeatedly stated a desire to get the election decided at parliament, rather than have a scenario as in 2016, when the process got spun out in the regional electoral colleges then returned to the Riigikogu.
Karis, 63, said yes to an offer to run made by Jüri Ratas just under a week ago, though his name had appeared in the media as one of several linked with the role as early as springtime.
Former foreign minister: Karis a serious candidate, both Reform and Center had to make sacrifices in compromise
Isamaa's deputy chair, and former foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said Monday morning that Karis was a serious candidate, meaning the issue was worth proper consideration.
He said: "We will meet Alar Karis today and I intend to examine his position on several issues regarding statehood, the transition to Estonian-language education, corruption, value policy, promotion of Estonian-ness, and security."
Isamaa as a national conservative party holds the issues of Estonian language in education and related matters as strong policy planks, while Reinsalu launched his own Tallinn mayoral bid last week on an anti-corruption platform, ahead of October's local elections. He was also foreign minister when Estonia ascended to its non-permanent UN Security Council seat, which runs to the end of this year.
Karis has said publicly that his worldview has become more conservative as he has gotten older.
Reinsalu also hinted at the cost of both Reform and Center backing Karis – Reform made the announcement Thursday, Center on Sunday – which, while it means the coalition is united on the matter, the prime minister and Reform leader Kaja Kallas: "Has had to turn her back on the candidacy of the incumbent president, although this [return of Kaljulaid for a second term] was the hope of many in the Reform Party."
The cost to Center was having to ditch Tarmo Soomere, whom Ratas had proposed as a candidate a few weeks earlier.
"The Center Party, in turn, had to turn its back on member of the science academy Tarmo Soomere. While the decision of the Reform Party was surprising to the president, the decision from the Center Party was probably equally surprising to Soomere," Reinsalu said.
This article was updated to include Urmas Reinsalu's comments
Editor: Andrew Whyte