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Ratas: I've been approached by several parties on potential European election candidacy

Jüri Ratas (Center).
Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While former prime minister Jüri Ratas is likely not to be running for the Center Party at June's European elections, over three other parties have already spoken to him about his options, Ratas told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Thursday.

Parties have until April to formalize and register their electoral lists.

Ratas told AK that "more than three" political parties had approached him about running at the European elections on June 9, though he is still currently a member of the Center Party.

While Ratas said that running as an independent candidate, too, was "a possibility," he added that "in today's situation, I don't think that's very likely."

Two parties who the former Center leader, who was prime minister 2016-2021, have been linked with Ratas are Isamaa, in opposition at the Riigikogu, plus the coalition Social Democrats (SDE).

The chairs of both parties would not be drawn on the matter, however.

Urmas Reinsalu, Isamaa's leader, said: "I don't have any information on that."

"However, I definitely think that we will be seeing both older and more experienced as well as newer players on our list."

Meanwhile SDE's leader, Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets, didn't have that much to say about a potential Ratas candidacy with his party, either.

"Yes, we have met at the Riigikogu and discussed things, but really it is too early to talk about that. We don't know what Ratas' plans are," Läänemets told AK.

One thing that party was clear about was who would be running in the number one position on the SDE list, Läänemets went on.

"Marina Kaljurand is running in the number one place at the European Parliament elections. Taking a look at the bigger picture, we're going to take two places," he went on, referring to two seats.

SDE has two MEPs at present too; Kaljurand, and former government minister Sven Mikser. The latter has neither confirmed nor denied he would be running.

The nomination process for candidates at the European elections starts April 10, which means some parties have already started drafting potential running orders.

Aivar Voog, expert with market research firm Kantar Emor, told AK that: "If there do end up being any surprising names on the list of any political party, this will certainly attract media attention; this party will receive a lot of media coverage, and that may be reflected in the subsequent rating for that party."

Under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation, parties run ordered lists of candidates, with excess votes accrued by a candidate higher up the list – beyond the threshold needed to win a seat – being distributed to candidates lower down the list.

This can enable the candidates lower down the list to clinch seats whereas they would not have done in their own right, making the strategic ordering of candidates the subject of much head-scratching by the parties, the media and interested observers, in the period leading up to an election.

This is particularly the case with the European elections, which are noted for being more candidate-based in terms of voter preferences, rather than party-based.

Given that Estonia is treated as one single electoral district, and there are only seven MEP seats up for grabs (compared with 11 districts and 101 seats at Riigikogu elections), parties' electoral lists are particularly refined and centered on placing a "vote magnet" candidate at the top of the list.

Evidence for this can be drawn from the 2009 elections. Indrek Tarand, running as an independent, amassed over 100,000 votes, winning a seat without even needing a party behind him.

This year's elections are, however, the third to have taken place since that result, which Aivar Voog said might not see a repeat of the Tarand case study (though he was re-elected in 2019).

On the other hand, that scenario is not impossible either. "This has to concern a person who has recently left a political party and has not yet found a new party. Of course, there would be potential persons for this position," Voog added.

While still a Center Party member even as several high-profile MPs left the party two weeks ago, leaving it with seven seats at the Riigikogu, Jüri Ratas has said that he would not run on any electoral list with Jana Toom – the party's sole MEP at present.

Ratas told AK that he said that the pair held differing values "on highly fundamental issues," though at the same time, Ratas noted, there is not a wide range of opportunities out there either.

"I have also said that I will make a decision within this month and that is what I will do," Ratas, who is also a Riigikogu deputy speaker, added.

Ratas had said at the end of last year that Jana Toom's providing legal aid to pro-Russian activists, including at least one who had been deported from Estonia, made her unfit to run as a candidate on June 9.

Of other possible big-name candidates, former president Kersti Kaljulaid told AK that she would not be running. Several parties had reportedly expressed an interest in her doing so.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Anne Raiste.

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