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Isamaa, SDE MPs say parties divided on Karis' presidential candidacy

Isamaa MPs, with leader Helir-Valdor Seeder at center, meeting Thursday.
Isamaa MPs, with leader Helir-Valdor Seeder at center, meeting Thursday. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

MPs from the opposition Isamaa and Social Democratic Parties (SDE) remain mostly tight-lipped about how they will be voting on the coalition's proposed presidential candidate, national museum director Alar Karis.

Isamaa and SDE met separately with Karis earlier this week, though some MPs from both parties suggested Thursday about half of them will vote for him.

If this turns out to be the case, Karis would amass enough votes to become president next Monday.

The two parties' leaders have permitted their MPs to vote their own way on Karis, 63, who, as well as being Estonian National Museum (ERM) director, is also a former auditor general and a former University of Tartu rector.

Voting on a president at the Rigiikogu is by secret ballot, adding to MPs' reluctance to state their intentions.

Isamaa

Half of Isamaa's MPs may vote for Alar Karis, ERR reports, with a view to getting the president elected in the Riigikogu next week, rather than a drawn-out electoral college process next month.

The position of the other half remains unclear, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Isamaa has 12 seats, so six could vote for Karis as things stand.

Isamaa MP Andres Metsoja was most open to telling ERR what his position was, which was that he may well vote for Karis at the Rigiikogu.

Metsoja said:  "I am considering voting for him, and if his candidacy is presented to parliament, the Riigkogu could do its job and elect the president.

"I think he is a dignified individual. If such a dignified person is ready to run, I see no reason why I should not support them," Metsoja reasoned.

Party-mate Aivar Kokk said that Karis was a good candidate, adding that he would not share his own position, but that it might be statesmenlike to get the election squared away at the chamber.

Kokk said: "I am optimistic about the process. Let's be statesmen about this; we want a president elected at the Riigikogu.

Üllar Saaremäe said that he, too, would not make how he was voting public, hinting that desires to get the president elected as quickly as possible "probably gives some indication" in relation to Isamaa MPs' free vote.

ERR was unable to reach Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder and MP Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits.

Four other Isamaa members who spoke to ERR did not give much away, namely the party's Riigikogu group chair Priit Sibul, party deputy chair Urmas Reinsalu – who said he wanted to speak to Karis again before voting, Mihhail Lotman, and Tarmo Kruusimäe.

The last of these said that he: "Hoped there will be no arrogant or arrogant statements about smaller partners over the weekend."

SDE

Kruusimäe's complaint echoed one from SDE leader Indrek Saar, who said earlier Thursday that the two smallest parties had been rolled over by the two largest ones, Reform and Center.

The two coalition parties had rubbished Isamaa and SDE's suggestions for a unifying candidate only then to demand the two smaller parties vote with them once they had pledged for Karis.

SDE MPs at the Riigikogu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

SDE may also be split around 50/50, party members said after a discussion lasting over two hours Thursday morning.

SDE has 11 seats (including Raimond Kaljulaid, who votes with the party's Riigikogu group), meaning around five or six could end up voting for Karis too.

MP Lauri Läänemets said: "During the discussion, we came to the conclusion that we don't have a consensus. There was one opinion and the other, regarding his support."

Indrek Saar, the party's leader, had Thursday morning announced that SDE MPs would also be able to vote with their own consciences on Karis.

SDE MP Jevgeni Ossinovski wrote on his social media account much the same – that some from the party support him, some do not.

Of the other SDE MPs, Jaak Juske and Helmen Kütt have not yet responded to ERR, while Raimond Kaljulaid said that the party's MPs plan to meet again before Monday's vote.

Indrek Saar has in the recent past said that SDE would support a second term for Kersti Kaljulaid, if other parties joined them – which with 11 seats they would indeed need to for this to happen.

First ballot takes place Monday afternoon, nominations Sunday evening

Candidates running in round one will be announced Sunday evening.

A minimum of 21 votes are required for a candidate to run.

The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) have put up Henn Põlluaas as their candidate, but with 19 seats would need two MPs from other parties to vote in favor for him even to run.

At least 68 votes are required to be elected president.

Reform and Center have pledged for Karis, bringing 59 votes, nine short of the target. Isamaa and SDE together have 23 seats. If half of these MPs vote in favor of Karis, as has been hinted may happen, this gives 11 votes – enough to surpass the 68-vote threshold by two votes.

The first ballot takes place Monday, August 30 starting at 1 p.m.

If it draws a blank, i.e. if no candidate nominated gets 68 votes, the process repeats twice on Tuesday, August 31. Nominating takes place Tuesday morning, with nominations ending two hours before the vote at 12.00 p.m.

If the second ballot is also inconclusive, a third ballot on Tuesday takes place as a run-off between the candidates who obtained the most votes in rounds one and two. That vote takes place at 4.00 p.m., and if it fails to produce a head of state, the process moves to the regional electoral colleges in September.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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