'Olukorrast riigis': Presidential election process in need of reform
A debate on making Estonia's presidents directly elected by the people, rather than by the Riigikogu as in the current system, is sorely needed, two ERR journalists found Sunday. Even if direct elections were not to materialize, the process needs reforming, they found.
Speaking on Raadio 2 politics show "Olukorrast riigis" Sunday afternoon, journalist Hindrek Riikoja said that: "The Center Party has promised to submit a bill on direct presidential elections to the current parliament."
He said: "While this bill will likely not find enough support, it this does not mean that the procedures of presidential elections could not be changed in other respects."
"Even if the vast majority of the so-called presidential regulations remain the same, the presidential election could at least alter the time required to nominate presidential candidates to both parliament and the electoral college."
"This would be in order for candidates to have time to introduce themselves, which is better for those who run for president," Riikoja went on.
While it was Center Party leader Jüri Ratas who first formally proposed national museum director Alar Karis as presidential candidate, just two weeks ago, Ratas has also said his party will be tabling a bill to install direct presidential elections, as soon as the Riiigikogu convenes for its regular work schedule in mid-September.
This year's presidential election is rather more a way-stage marker on the road towards direct elections, Riikoja added.
"Politicians should not be let off the hook without being asked what is going to happen to our presidential election system. Because the current situation is still anything but good," Riikoja went on.
Even without direct elections, the people should still have time to get to know the candidates and their worldviews, he added.
The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) candidate, former speaker Henn Põlluaas, has no chance of winning, something which EKRE is well aware of, Riikoja went on.
Põlluaas campaigning and canvassing in the regions, something he has been doing for much of the summer, might be with October's local elections in mind, Riikoja added.
Also appearing on "Olukorrast riigis", journalist Indrek Lepik wondered whether Reform and Center see their candidate, Alar Karis, as a pliable figure more likely to fall in line with government plans, partly due to his political experience.
Current president Kersti Kaljulaid has faced criticism for getting involved in politics, particularly once EKRE was in office, April 2019-January this year.
Lepik also said that while the other two opposition parties, the Social Democrats (SDE) and Isamaa, hold the cards on whether Karis gets elected – Reform and Center together are nine votes short of the 68 needed to get elected head of state – they have nothing to lose if Karis ends up not being head of state.
Hindrek Riikoja noted that they had nothing to gain, either – by not electing Karis, EKRE will emerge in a stronger position, while SDE and Isamaa will not benefit from a protracted electoral process.
EKRE has 19 seats – two short of the 21 needed for a candidate to officially run in a presidential election – but if the process prolongs in the electoral college, as it will do if Monday and Tuesdays' ballots draw a blank, the 21 votes may well be found.
Only 50 percent of the electoral college (104 votes) is require to get elected via the electoral college, compared with two-thirds (68 votes) at the Riigikogu.
If Monday afternoon's ballot proves inconclusive, a second ballot is held Tuesday morning, preceded by nominations. If this draws a blank too, a run-off is held Tuesday afternoon between the top two candidates by votes in Tuesday morning's vote.
So far, Karis is the only formally declared candidate, and is the only candidate standing in Monday's ballot.
If Monday and Tuesday do not produce a head of state at the Riigikogu, the process moves to the electoral college (two rounds maximum) next month; the college itself convenes in Tallinn for the event.
"There are several such rounds at the Riigikogu, and after the first round there is an opportunity to really assess where the real support lies. After that, you can do your horse trading if Karis is not elected," Indrek Lepik said.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte