Samost and Sildam: In parties' interests that president chosen by Riigikogu

Anvar Samost (left) and Toomas Sildam, on an earlier Vikerraadio broadcast..
Anvar Samost (left) and Toomas Sildam, on an earlier Vikerraadio broadcast.. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Whereas until very recently the presidential elections starting August 30 seemed to have foundered, in the past week things have moved forward quickly, senior ERR journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam said on their eponymous Sunday afternoon politics radio talk show.

With the two coalition partners, Reform and Center, declaring for national museum director and former auditor general Alar Karis, things have crystallized, which might be related to a desire to avoid a clash with the forthcoming local elections. In any case, it is in the parties' interests that the matter get decided at the Riigikogu rather than be drawn out in the regional electoral colleges, as happened in 2016, the speakers thought.

Anvar Samost said that: "The presidential elections this year immediately precede the local government council elections, and this may be the reason why political parties want to end the presidential rounds in the Riigikogu."

The presidential electoral process starts Monday, August 30, while the current president's first term (Kersti Kalljulaid is eligible for a second consecutive term) ends on October 11, the same day the advance voting period for this year's municipal elections start. Election day for the municipal elections is October 17.

The procedures involved in Karis' emergence as a candidate have been transparent so far, Samost added, though could ideally have started much earlier than just days before election day.

As a relatively well-known and respected figure, unlikely to have any skeletons in the closet, however, this issue is somewhat mitigated in the case of Karis, he added.

Samost also noted that each presidential election seems to carry with it its own tone, reflecting the zeitgeist.

He said: "Each time, the presidential election has followed a certain path, which has been a reflection of the current situation and the options for agreements [between the parties], and this time is no exception."

What will probably also not change is the late emergence of candidates, Samost added.

"It is likely that we will not develop any practice whereby on Midsummer 's Day [June 24] all the parties will nominate a candidate," he added.

Toomas Sildam pointed out the significance of the two coalition parties, Reform and Center, apparently being able to compromise on a candidate.

"It is pleasant that the Center Party and the Reform Party were able to agree on a joint candidate," Sildam said.

Previously, Reform had largely been identified with the presidency of Kersti Kaljulaid, while Center, who, via then-prime minister Jüri Ratas in particular, were often at loggerheads with the head of state from spring 2019 to the beginning of this year, while the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) was in office with Center and Isamaa.

Center's apparent original candidate had been academic Tarmo Soomere.

The manner in which this was confirmed almost simultaneously was also significant, he said – Reform had in principal agreed to Karis as candidate Thursday, reconfirming it on Sunday at the same time Center announced they were also for the national museum director, and former auditor general.

Samost agreed, saying that: "Of course, this was a coordinated move. If one or the other had decided anything else, Karis could not have moved forward."

Sildam noted that in any case, the Karis announcement was somewhat of a return to square one, in that his name had been touted in the media early on, along with others, such as former defense minsiter Jüri Luik (who has declined the role and is taking up his post as Estonia's ambassador to NATO – ed.).

Karis gave the impression to Center Party MPs that he was more familiar with the state than Tarmo Soomere was, which probably swung the balance.

EKRE is going it alone with Henn Põlluaas, a decision made earlier on in summer, and is building their campaign around him, Sildam added.

While EKRE has only 19 seats at the Rigiikogu – not even enough for the former speaker to be officially declared a candidate – if the Riigikogu voting proves inconclusive, EKRE might have a better chance in the electoral college stage to at least get him a sufficient number of mandates to run.

All of this makes it in the interests of the other four parties, the opposition Isamaa and Social Democrats (SDE) as well as Reform and Center, that the president get elected at the Riigikogu, the pair felt.

Reform and Center have 59 seats meaning if all their MPs vote along official party lines in the secret ballot on August 30, nine more votes are required from either Isamaa (12 seats) or SDE (11 Seats) to reach the magic number of 68 votes, required to elect a head of state.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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