Parties begin mulling over country's next president

  • 2005-11-23
  • Staff and wire reports
TALLINN - With incumbent Arnold Ruutel's term ending next year, leading political parties have reportedly been discussing whom to choose as the country's next president.
The daily Postimees wrote this week that the leading contenders are Ruutel, former prime minister and current president of the Estonian Olympic Committee Mart Siimann, or a joint candidate of the right-wing parties and Social Democrats.

Pro Patria Union, Social Democrats, Res Publica and the Reform Party have laid down their criteria for the potential candidate, saying the next president must be politically credible, known to the people, a representative of the Western paradigm, a non-communist and someone who doesn't have autocratic tendencies.

The parties have not yet started official negotiations. The Reform Party, Pro Patria Union, Social Democrats and Res Publica have 66 votes in the 101-seat Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament), but 68 votes are needed to elect the president.

If the required two-thirds majority cannot be mustered, an electoral college will chose the president. The four parties are estimated to have the support of 30 - 40 percent of deputies.

The People's Union and Center Party together have about 40 percent of the votes in the electoral college, a special body for electing the president that's made up of all members of Parliament and local government representatives.

Ruutel has not revealed his plans in regards to a second five-year term, but will likely do so in February.

The Postimees suggested that Ruutel might decide to run if Economy Minister Edgar Savisaar joins the race in order to prevent the Center Party chairman from becoming president.

The paper said that, although People's Union has expressed its support for Ruutel, it may decide to support Siimann if Ruutel withdraws. Siimann may also get the votes of the Reform Party, the paper reported, if the right-wing parties and Social Democrats are unable to agree on a common candidate.

For his part, Siimann said his future was with the EOC, and he rejected speculation about any presidential ambition.

"My activities and plans are, within the scope of the powers given to me, linked with my work in the Estonian Olympic Committee," Siimann, who also serves as adviser to incumbent Ruutel, told the Baltic News Service.

Siimann, 59, became caretaker prime minister in 1997 following the resignation of Coalition Party Prime Minister Tiit Vahi, and he served as head of government until the next elections in 1999. He was elected president of EOC in 2001.