TALLINN - Prime Minister Andrus Ansip took a bold political step last week when he said Estonia needed a change of president. Speaking at the Reform Party's general meeting on April 29, Ansip acknowledged the performance of incumbent President Arnold Ruutel but said that the country needed someone younger as head of state. He added that nobody could "diminish Ruutel's role as president insofar as Estonia is now a member of the European Union and NATO."
Ansip used a sports metaphor to illustrate his point: "Just as a great athlete can tell the right time to bow out after a major victory, a real statesman knows that a timely decision to step down will pave the way and open up opportunities for younger candidates."
Ruutel, who turns 78 this month, has so far refused to indicate whether he would run in the presidential race. His candidacy has been supported by the People's Union, but most parties agree that Estonia needs a new head of state.
As Ansip clearly stated, "We believe that Estonia needs to finally pass on the baton."
Of Parliament's six parties, five have begun the search for a presidential candidate who can muster the required two-thirds majority to be elected. But if lawmakers fail to elect the head of state in three successive ballots, the task will pass on to an electoral college, which is made up of MPs and local government representatives.
This is precisely how Ruutel was elected in 2001, and the exact scenario his supporters in the People's Union are hoping for.
Ansip expressed his wish that lawmakers would elect a president who is capable of vigorously representing Estonia's interests in the world and "embodying present day Estonia."
The presidential election will serve as a litmus test for whether cooperation between different parties is mere rhetoric or actually something that can be achieved, Ansip said.
The prime minister added that he would be content if the office was taken over by Social Democrat MEP Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Mayor of Tartu Laine Janes or Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo. All three were nominated by the Reform Party.