Estonia steps up election process

  • 2006-06-28
  • By Joel Alas

ELECTIONS: Ilves is a top presidential candidate.

TALLINN - At the president's request, an extraordinary session of Parliament has been called at the end of summer to elect the nation's next head of state. But instead of selecting a new president, a fractured legislature may result in a lengthy election process, political analysts said.

On June 27 the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament) announced that an extraordinary session would be held at 12 p.m. on Aug. 28 with the presidential election as its sole agenda.
In line with convention, Parliamentary Chairman Toomas Varek scheduled the session at the request of President Arnold Ruutel.
The main contender is expected to be Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a member of the European Parliament.

Despite enjoying support from four of the six political parties, analysts do not believe Ilves will summon the majority support needed for election (see story Page 2).
Instead, it appears likely the decision will pass from Parliament to an electoral college system in which Ruutel enjoys stronger support.

Professor Raivo Vetik from Tallinn University's Institute of International and Social Studies said that Ilves is a good candidate but unable to unite all sides of politics. "In foreign policy he would be a perfect candidate, but he does not enjoy such support internally," he said.
Parties have already presented a shortlist of candidates, including politicians and academics.
Both the Center Party and the People's Union have announced their intention to vote against Ilves.
Vetik said he believed the only candidate likely to appeal to all sides of politics was Jaak Aaviksoo, rector of the prestigious Tartu University and a former education minister. "He can combine the good characteristics of Lennart Meri and Arnold Ruutel. He is out of politics, and this is very important. I think it is a good idea to have an outsider as president."

But neither Ilves, Aaviksoo or any other candidate will take office unless they win a two-thirds majority in Parliament, or 66 votes.
Rainer Katter, a political analyst from Tallinn Technical University, said this meant the electoral college was more likely to make the final decision.
"To understand this, it's essential to remember that the electoral college includes representatives from all local governments. The latter include, almost by definition, more people from the countryside and with a farming background. This is supposedly also where Ruutel seems to have quite strong support," Katter said.

Despite its complications, the professor said he still believed the system should be maintained.
"The current system is an interesting political institution. It forces the parties into a democratic process of coalition building and compromise finding without any big rewards or obligations. It is almost the only example of symbolic politics in Estonia."
Professor Katter said both of Estonia's presidents had demonstrated the importance of the role.
"Meri and Ruutel have been very different in their actions. The former often saw his role in discussing strategic visions and in criticizing day-to-day politics; the latter has taken up social problems in order to bring them to political discussions without open criticism of parties. In that sense, the presidency as an institution has served as part of the system of checks-and-balances," Katter said.

"To elect the president directly would logically bring much more responsibility to the institution - however, the president does not have the powers to deliver. So this would bring much more populism to the institution."