Opposition party Isamaa will allow its MPs to vote for whichever presidential candidate they wish at the first Riigikogu ballot next Monday, party leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said on Wednesday afternoon.
Seeder said: "Following the meeting of the Isamaa Riigikogu group and the party board with Alar Karis, we have thoroughly considered his suitability for the presidency."
"Based on these circumstances, Isamaa has opted not to nominate Alar Karis, and on August 30, each member of the group will vote according to their own consciences," he added. Isamaa has 12 MPs.
Isamaa quizzed Karis on his worldview at this week's meeting, including on immigration, the Estonian language and culture, and same-sex marriage.
Karis was also asked pointed questions which heavily referenced Kersti Kaljulaid's first term, most notably what the party suggested was interfering in domestic politics, a line which Seeder reiterated Wednesday.
Seeder also said that the party's expectations for what a president should look like are unchanged and that the party wants the president to get elected in the Riigikogu rounds next Monday and Tuesday, and not have the process dragged out into the regional electoral college in September.
After the meeting, Isamaa Riigikogu member Urmas Reinsalu said members of the party would vote for Karis. "We did not have a public or secret vote, but there are certainly considerable members of the group who will be voting in favor of Alar Karis," he said.
While presidential candidates are to be formally declared Sunday evening, the Reform and Center parties have already pledged support for national museum director Alar Karis.
However, the parties need nine more votes for Karis to become head of state.
Since the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) is going it alone with their own candidate, former speaker Henn Põlluaas, that leaves the Social Democratic Party (SDE), with 11 seats, and Isamaa, as noted with 12.
Both parties met with Karis this week but were generally non-committal about him as a candidate.
SDE will make their final decision by 11.00 a.m. Thursday, though several of its MPs, including party leader Indrek Saar, have suggested they would prefer a second term for Kersti Kaljulaid.
The picture is complicated both by the fact that there are not enough votes at the Riigikogu for Kaljulaid to get elected in the first ballot, and also that if they did vote for Karis, SDE would be able to block their arch rivals, EKRE.
Reform MP Siim Kallas is unwell and in hospital, and it is also not clear if he will be able to vote on Monday.
Isamaa also has some crossover with EKRE on some social issues.
EKRE is unlikely to even be able to nominate its candidate as 21 votes are needed and the party has 19 seats. However, if the Riigikogu fails to elect a president after three rounds of voting, the election moves to the electoral college and the party may well find the missing votes.
Ratas: Isamaa decision means Karis as president now feasible
Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas (Center), who has been repeatedly calling for the president to get elected at the Riigikogu next week, rather than have the process prolonged in the electroal college, says that Isamaa's decision means his party's candidate, Alar Karis, now has a chance.
Talking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK), Ratas said Wednesday evening that: "I think the possibility that Alar Karis will get 68 votes, via various consultations and negotiations, I think is now met. It is clear that today it depends on Isamaa and also on SDE."
Center collected 25 signatures – all its complement of MPs.
Mart Võrklaev, Reform's Riigikogu group chair, was similarly optimistic.
He said: "Since so many of Isamaa's MPs have expressed support for Karis, and Isamaa says it wants to elect the President via the Riigikogu, I would very much hope Isamaa's votes will be for Alar Karis, as far as possible."
Isamaa's deputy chair Urmas Reinsalu also says that there is a potential for votes for Karis from a party, though neither a priave nor secret ballot had been held on the matter.
This article was updated to include comments from Jüri Ratas, Mart Võrklaev and Urmas Reinsalu
Editor: Andrew Whyte