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Karis: It is democratic that only two parties support me

Presidential candidate Alar Karis said that only two parties have backed his nomination is proof that democracy is working.

Speaking on ETV's presidential election "Esimene stuudio" special on Friday evening, Karis, director of the Estonian National Museum, said it is a good thing that only the governing coalition parties - Reform and Center - are supporting him.  

"It shows that democracy works, that it is not the case that all political parties are behind one man," said Karis, who said that he had not called members of parliament for additional support. "I do not use this policy. People have called me, but I have not shown initiative myself."

Parliamentary party members of Isamaa and the Social Democrats will vote as they choose on Monday and there is no party line. EKRE is supporting its own candidate. Reform and Center need an additional nine votes from the other parties to elect Karis.

Karis said his job, if he is elected on Monday, is to show that he is not an emergency candidate. He also said too much importance should not be placed on opinion polls, which show incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid as the preference of the people.

Speaking about the presidential election system, where parties nominate candidates, he said a discussion is needed as soon as possible if the system is to the amended.

Several parties have called for the president to be directly elected by the public. He has suggested each party could nominate their own candidate.

"Whoever becomes president should end the debate. This must be negotiated now, not when the next election is on the doorstep," said Karis, but added he did not dislike the current system and said it was constitutional. He said what devalues ​​it now is that more is said about the election process than about the candidate.

Karis denied he would be a comfortable president: "It is assumed that the president has to fight the government, the parliament, I don't think so. /.../ But I don't think I'm a comfortable person. Don't count on it."

On the subject of his worldview, Karis said on some issues he holds conservative views. "Yes, of course, because I like traditions. Language and culture are very important to me," he said.

Speaking about vaccination, Karis, a professor of biology, said he had received the coronavirus vaccination and is in favor of vaccination. But he said a balance needs to be struck between public health and civil liberties.

He said a lot of misunderstandings arise from ignorance and that people need to be educated. Regarding the existing coronavirus restrictions, Karis added that if the restrictions are reasonable, then they are necessary.

Discussing the Estonian-Russian language education system, Karis said changing the entire system to Estonian overnight is neither reasonable nor possible.

"We can't say that we will start teaching in Estonian overnight, knowing that there is a shortage of teachers, the environment is not favorable, there is a lack of motivation. These things have to be solved," he said.

When asked who he thinks is a true Estonian, Karis replied this is a person who respects the Estonian Constitution. "The Constitution says everything, and especially in the preamble. I think it says a lot," he said.

The president is a mostly ceremonial role in Estonia which has an emphasis on foreign policy and they do not create domestic policy. The president can also promulgate and scrutinize laws.

You can watch the broadcast (in Estonian) here.

Who is Alar Karis?

Alar Karis, 63, is an Estonian citizen by birth, a native of Tartu and the current director of the Estonian National Museum.

He is an Estonian molecular geneticist and developmental biologist who embarked on an academic career after graduating from the veterinary department of the Estonian University of Life Sciences and became a professor in 1999.

He served as rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences from 2003-2007 and as rector of the University of Tartu from 2007-2012. He was appointed Estonia's auditor general in March 2013 and, after completing his tenure, as director of the Estonian National Museum in October 2017.

Karis was suggested as a potential candidate in spring but did not put himself forward for the role. On August 16, after discussions collapsed with the President of the Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere, Chairman of the Center Party Jüri Ratas approach Karis to run as a candidate. He agreed to do two weeks ago.

Karis suggested in an interview with ERR in May (link in Estonian), while talking about presidential candidates, that the best person for the job is never chosen.

So far, he is the only candidate nominated for president. The election will take place on Monday (August 31).

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Editor: Helen Wright

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