Kaljulaid denies talking to parties on 2023 election prime ministerial bid

Kersti Kaljulaid.
Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Former President Kersti Kaljulaid has talked to three political parties, including the coalition Reform Party, sounding them out on a potential prime ministerial bid in next spring's general election, an opinion piece which appeared on agricultural weekly Maaleht's website Wednesday says, though Kaljulaid herself denies all this.

The Maaleht piece, by journalist Hannes Rumm (link in Estonian), argues that Kaljulaid, who was president between 2016 and 2021, will have to make a decision on whether to skip the election, to take place in March 2023, and face an unusually empty calendar for that year, or stake her reputation on an electoral run as a prime ministerial candidate.

One narrative, Rumm writes, sees Kaljulaid make a proposal similar to that of Raja Teele, the main woman protagonist in the popular series of novels by Oskar Luts, to wit: I won't run in the general election, but will provide support to no fewer then three political parties in the campaign (the other two being the non-parliamentary Eesti 200 and Parempoolsed parties – ed.) and, should one of these be able to head up a coalition after election day, March 5, you will pick me as prime minister.

The newly-formed Parempoolsed, with its so far rather meagre popularity rating, would likely find the offer most appealing, Rumm writes, though Eesti 200, contesting their second general election and looking for their first ever Riigikogu seats, would see Kaljulaid as a major drawer of votes nationwide, and so have not given up on hopes that the ex-president will run for them either.

The problem lies in the potential loss of face, not only for an individual – it is only really on election day that it becomes finally clear on what a public figure's rating with that same public really is – but also for a party, Rumm notes, adding that even if Kaljulaid personally were to poll well, working even in a second-fiddle party, should Eesti 200 not perform so well in the election, would not interest her, let alone sitting in the Riigikogu as a rank-and-file MP.

Rumm points to Kaljulaid's contribution to former defense minister Margus Tsahkna's "Isamaa 2.0" program, back in 2016 when Kaljulalid was Estonia's representative at the European Court of Auditors, which proved her sharp mind and strong, contemporary ideas, Rumm writes, while Tsahkna's moving to Eesti 200 ahead of the 2019 election made this party both a natural and genuine home for the former president.

As to Reform – since it already has a prime minister in Kaja Kallas – Rumm says the party itself had approached Kaljulaid last fall, at a time when the party's rating was much lower than it has been in 2022, in the interests of obtaining a "unifying" candidate and also of staving off a challenge from Eesti 200, whose worldview is comparable with Reform's, should Kaljulaid have thrown her lot in with that party.

The changed security situation and Kallas' ensuing surge in popularity, fueled in part by myriad appearances in major English-language and other international media outlets since February, put paid to the above exercise, however.

A final dimension, the Maaleht piece argues, is that Kaljulaid's pick of party, should she make one, would impact on the 52-year-old's career aspirations in international high-level positions, not least the Secretary General of NATO post, which will become vacant in September next year and which Kaljulaid's name has been linked to, even if the odds might be against a candidate from a small Central and Eastern European nation getting that job.

On the other hand, a potential job swap between Kaljulaid and Kallas could also be on the cards – the former as prime minister and the latter, with her contacts in domestic government and with policy makers and their interface with NATO, heightened by the current security crisis, as the next NATO chief.

The original Maaleht piece (in Estonian) is here.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was due to stand down at the end of this month, but the changed security situation has seen his term extended by a year. He has been in the role since 2014, when he replaced Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

As noted Kaljulaid has so far ruled out, at least via an adviser, running in the March 5 2023 general election and, ERR reports, rejects the above theories.

While president, she frequently clashed with the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition through its entire administration, April 2019 to January 2021.

Kaljulaid also ran for another top international post, Secretary General Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while she was still president, though withdrew her candidacy in January 2021.

Estonia's proportional representation system of elections lends itself to "vote magnet" candidates running in the number one spot on a party's given constituency list.

While such a candidate is under no obligation to take up a seat if they win one – some end up as government ministers, MEPs or on the Riigikogu board – while, in some cases, they have not even joined the party they are running for, the system allows for the redistribution of excess votes once they have clinched a seat to lesser candidates lower down on the list.

This can have the effect of candidates who only obtained hundreds of votes in their own right nonetheless winning a seat, and in any case can boost that party's seat haul from the election.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Maaleht

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