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Feature: What topics should the next president of Estonia deal with?

Alar Karis
Alar Karis Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Last week Alar Karis was elected the next president of Estonia. ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera. nadal" interviewed experts and asked what he should focus on during his five-year term of office and how much influence he will have on domestic politics.

Karis is the current director of the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, a former auditor general and rector of the University of Tartu and University of Life Sciences. He has already said social cohesion and education are areas he is particularly interested in and will make it a priority to communicate with all political forces in Estonia. 

But as Karis was nominated just 13 days before the deadline and no election debates were held before he was elected this means his full election program was never published.

AK interviewed Paavo Nõgene, chairman of the Board of Tallink and former state official and theater director, who said it will be possible to get a clearer idea of his priorities when Karis gives his first speech as president in October.

"I think the first speeches will also show what his focus will be. How he wants to relate to society and what the emphasis will be on. I think one topic is how to integrate society. And maybe another will highlight what story Estonia tells about itself outside Estonia. Is it still digital Estonia or is it Estonia with the cleanest nature?" said Nõgene.

Liia Hänni, a member of the Constitutional Assembly and a public figure and former minister, said the president should continue to discuss Estonia as a digital state.

"I think that Alar Karis has very good prerequisites as a researcher to make his mark here because Estonia is known in the world as a successful digital country. This image is worth not only maintaining but also developing. This could continue to be one of the issues the president deals with," she said.

However, Mario Kadastik, a member of the Estonian Academy of Young Sciences, said that coronavirus will not be a big issue soon and the president must address how to move forward. 

Kadastik expects a new science-based approach from the new president. "We can really move forward as a knowledge-based society," he said, adding society is held back by "armchair experts".

In earlier interviews, Karis discussed polarization both politically and among society and he has promised to try and bring society together. But he already knows this will not be an easy task.

Nõgene said there have been discussions about uniting society for years but it has not moved beyond empty slogans.

"It has been said that we are building bridges and creating a more cohesive society, but if it doesn't work out then all these speakers probably need to have a look in the mirror. Alar Karis, as a new person, can definitely bring new thinking and attitudes. And hopefully, his words, education and scientific background will contribute to that," said Nõgene.

Entrepreneur and web designer Tõnu Runnel said it is not possible to bring together every part of society.

"He has to be the president of society as a whole, but he doesn't have to combine irreconcilable political extremes with sensible discourse. He has to be president of society as a whole," he said.

Runnel said the president should have a say in domestic political issues that are addressed to him. For example, when appointing ministers and on issues where the president's view is needed.

"He must be president of the whole of society, but he does not have to combine, irreconcilable political extremes with sensible discourse. But in political culture, his role is to remember values, to uphold those values and not to try to compromise them," Runnel said.

Speaking about the role of the president in resolving domestic political issues, Hänni made a comparison with sport. She said the president has no right to show politicians a red card and exclude them from the game.

"However, the president should have the right to show a yellow card. This is to point out that if any rules of the democratic game are disregarded, the political struggle could become dangerous to the democratic system. The president should not, with boxing gloves in hand, rush to impose order on the political playground. However, their tool is a whistle - to whistle when the rules of the game are not followed," said Hänni. 

Karis will take office on October 11.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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