TALLINN - The nation's five leading political parties have started the agonizing months-long search for a presidential candidate. The first step in the process will be to narrow down the field by giving the dozen nominees a month to present their views. The candidates have until the parties' next meeting on May 11 to state their opinions about the challenges facing Estonia in the next five years.
In the words of Res Publica leader Taavi Veskimagi, all the nominees are worthy presidential candidates, and this gives hope that Parliament would succeed in electing the head of state later this year.
Eiki Nestor, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said candidates of other parties will be evaluated at the next meeting in five weeks' time, and one of the three named by each party will be eliminated. The final decision will probably not be made until August, he added.
The five parties put forward 12 names all in all.
MEP Toomas Hendrik Ilves was named by the Reform Party, Pro Patria Union and the Social Democratic Party, and rector of Tartu University Jaak Aaviksoo was on the lists of Res Publica and Social Democrats.
Reform also proposed Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo and the mayor of Tartu, Laine Janes.
The Center Party's candidates were parliament Speaker Toomas Varek, head of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Enn Eesmaa and chairman of the Tartu City Council Aadu Must.
Res Publica named in addition to Aaviksoo deputy speaker of the parliament Ene Ergma and the chairman of the board of Eesti Telekom, Jaan Mannik.
Pro Patria Union's two other candidates were MP Peeter Tulviste and the businessman Jaan Manitski, and the Social Democratic Party put forward MP Liina Tonisson in addition to Ilves and Aaviksoo.
The leader of the Center Party, Edgar Savisaar, told public broadcaster Eesti Raadio all 12 are deserving candidates. He added, however, that he believes other contenders for this high post will emerge.
Res Publica said it would be willing to support Ilves. "If Ilves is the candidate who can make five parties find the necessary unity in Parliament, then Res Publica will not stand in the way of such an agreement," Veskimagi said.
Many leading politicians are desperate to avoid a repeat of events five years ago when Parliament failed to find a common candidate. A specially designated electoral college comprised of national and regional officials then convened and elected Arnold Ruutel, who is closely aligned with the left-wing People's Union.
Ruutel has not yet stated whether he would run for re-election, though it would appear that with the major parties bypassing his candidacy, as well as his age (78), the president is unlikely to put forth his candidacy