President-elect: I'll keep questions over election process on table

Alar Karis appearing on ETV's 'Esimene stuudio' on Tuesday, August 31 2021, the day he was elected head of state.
Alar Karis appearing on ETV's 'Esimene stuudio' on Tuesday, August 31 2021, the day he was elected head of state. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Newly-elected President of Estonia Alar Karis says that the issue of the electoral process needs to be addressed, and if needed reformed. He will keep the matter in public focus, he added.

Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday night, Karis said that the election which returned him was conducted perfectly in line with the constitution.

However, dissatisfaction with the process reigned even after previous presidential elections, he said, and the topic had been raised at that point too.

Karis said: "I am also saying now that after the elections, I would like to raise this issue, to see if they will continue in the same way or if there is an intermediate option that would expand the scope; we will also discuss this direct election."

Karis, who was the sole candidate at Monday's ballot, in which he narrowly missed out on becoming head of state, and at Tuesday's where he was successful, said that a public perception of injustice can emerge if a candidate's name is made public just before the election.

Karis, 63, was national museum director up until his election, and was only revealed as the official coalition candidate two weeks before the vote.

Karis told "Esimene stuudio" that changes could be made without the constitution having to be amended.

Karis said that representatives of all the Riigikogu parties – the Riigikogu votes in the president, not the public – had contacted him for talks and not vice versa.

In the case of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) this involved only being approached by party leader Martin Helme, he said. EKRE had put up its own candidate, Henn Põlluaas, who lacked sufficient support at the Riigikogu to run.

"I'm not a politician, which is why I don't play games in that way, that someone should ask me and then I give something in return," he said.

Nonetheless, he was glad the election was concluded at the Riigikogu rather than extend out to the electoral college, as would have happened if Tuesday's ballots had drawn a blank.

"When I met with the leaders of the parties, they also told me that they wanted to elect the president in the Riigikogu," he said.

Karis said he told those parties he met with that the president must deal with domestic and foreign policy in equal measure, adding the work of the previous presidents must be continued.

Since society is polarized both in Estonia and in other countries, he said, looking for a culprit is not needed, but rather solving problems is.

Educating the public also plays an important role, he said. 

"I have worked for many years at the University of Tartu as a professor and my job has been to teach. And that's why I also believe in the power of words and role models," he went on, in response to a question on conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus.

"What the president should do (is) get a sense of how this society breathes, and where the difficult places are," Karis said, adding communication was key and did not mean you had to agree with all and sundry. 

He also said that a president should be capable of involving what he called dubious groups within society.

At the same time, this did not mean a president should not express his or her opinion on matters. "The president has the right and obligation to say what she or he sees as wrong, but this always depends on the style of how that gets said and where. It has to be said that sometimes it is more useful to keep quiet.

Education should start at the grassroots level when it comes to integration issues, as even in higher education, you can't start to change things, he said, referring to the interface between Estonia's Russian-speaking minority and Estonian-speaking majority.

"I want to be a good president for the country, so that everyone feels safe, that the Estonian state develops further and is a good partner for other countries," he continued.

Karis: Riigikogu should play greater role

The president-elect said that he had previously argued for the Riigikogu taking on a more prominent role and closely monitoring what the government does, and read drafts carefully.

This was brought into sharp relief this week when huge gaping holes were reported in the state budget calculations. "The problem may be that they can't get any worse," he said, in relation to the oversights.

Finally, the new president said he does not know what the logistics of moving into Kadriorg, or even if he will reside there. He has started liaising with the President's Office director already, he added.

The head of state may reside at Kadriorg, but is not obliged to.

Karis was elected at the second ballot with 72 votes at the 101-seat Riigikogu, after a sufficient number of opposition Isamaa and Social Democrat MPs voted for him. He had missed out on the 68 vote threshold required to get elected on Monday, by five votes.

You can read more about Alar Karis here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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