Center Party says will table direct presidential elections bill

Center Party board meeting on Sunday, August 22, where the party voted in favor of Alar Karis as presidential candidate.
Center Party board meeting on Sunday, August 22, where the party voted in favor of Alar Karis as presidential candidate. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Center Party says that it will table a bill which would reform Estonia's presidential elections system, making the head of state directly elected by the people, rather than by the Riigikogu as at present.

The party says that it has been in favor of direct elections for years; the current presidential election process at the Riigikogu starts one week today.

Center adopted the policy at a board meeting Sunday, saying that the present system is not conducive to campaigning or the wide discussion of issues.

"If we had direct presidential elections, the nomination of candidates would start much earlier, and we would certainly see a serious debate on Estonia's key issues and future goals," a party statement read.

Center says it plans to bring the bill to the Riigikogu early on in the autumn session, which starts mid-September.

The statement continued that: "The Center Party has been calling for direct presidential elections for years. This desire has only been amplified by the sometimes incomprehensible and protracted election process. People understand that the talk of the 'people's president' is not convincing enough today."

The Riigikogu goes back to its official schedule slightly later this year due to another election taking place in October, to the local municipalities, and ostensibly to give MPs time to campaign for this election. This also frees up time for the presidential election process, which starts August 30.

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has also proclaimed the need for direct presidential elections, and has put up its own candidate, former speaker Henn Põlluaas, who has been canvassing the regions through much of the summer. Põlluaas could not get the required 21 votes to run as president from his own party alone – EKRE has 19 seats – but his campaigning may also have been made with October's local elections in mind, as might Center's announcement, given its timing.

After several false starts in the presidential election process, a candidate has agreed to run – national museum director Alar Karis – who has the support of both Center and Reform, and is meeting with two opposition parties, the Social Democrats and Isamaa, Monday.

"Direct presidential elections will force politicians to step out of partisan egoism," the statement continued, adding that a president elected by the people will have a better understanding of the role.

The argument against holding direct presidential elections mainly concerns the other side of the same coin – that the process would become too politicized, particularly in relation to Estonia and its society's complex relationship with its eastern neighbor, the Russian Federation, but on other issues as well.

An elected head of state must leave any political party she or he may belong to before taking up office. Toomas Hendrik Ilves had to leave the Social Democrats prior to taking up office in his first term in 2006.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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