TALLINN - President Arnold Ruutel will most likely take on a second term in office, now that two political parties, the Center Party and the People's Union, have signed an agreement to support his candidacy. Political analysts said the agreement virtually ensured that the parliamentary rounds of voting would fail and that Ruutel would be elected through the electoral college system.
The Center Party's extended board signed off on the agreement on Aug. 13 and voted overwhelmingly to throw its support behind the president.
Ruutel, who attended the meeting in an obvious display of pre-planned theatrics, addressed the party members and told them he was ready to stand for a second term.
"I have said before and confirm here to you today that in case Parliament fails to perform its constitutional duty and a more wide-based, democratic decision-making body is called in the form of an electoral college, I will give my consent to run for a second term of office," Ruutel told the meeting.
He welcomed the cooperation of the two parties, and said he hoped it pointed to a more united political landscape.
Last week, the president's office issued a press release attesting to Ruutel's good health, as if to pre-empt any suggestion that the 78-year old leader was too frail to retain his office.
The leader of the Center Party, Edgar Savisaar, who has for weeks revelled in his position as Estonia's political kingmaker, said Ruutel was the clear choice. "Like the president, the Center Party wants an Estonia where the people will be statisfied with their head of state," Savisaar said.
"This means ensuring a worthy life for everyone in Estonia, despite the person's age. President Ruutel has acted in a statesmanly and balanced way and, when necessary, has drawn public attention to the dangers threatening society," Savisaar, who is economy minister, said.
Together the two parties hold 35 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament). According to the constitution, two-thirds of Parliament must vote in agreement to elect the president. The parties' collaboration makes this impossible 's by just one seat.
Estonian politicians reacted bitterly to the pact. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said the agreement painted a threatening picture of the future and set the economic system that has brought success to Estonia on its head.
"The cooperation agreement of the People's Union and the Center Partyâ€¦ shows that desires to revert the economic system that has guaranteed Estonia's success have not disappeared," Ansip, chairman of the Reform Party, told the daily Postimees.
He added that in a certain sense the agreement brought clarity and now everyone could see what Estonia could look forward to if the Center Party and the People's Union should manage to rise to a position of power alone. "The picture is quite threatening 's to discard the present tax system would bring very serious consequences," the head of government said about his coalition partners.
Taavi Veskimagi, leader of Res Publica, a right-wing party in the opposition, told the Baltic News Service, "The agreement is carried with the wish to turn back all we have achieved so far, including creation of a special relationship with Russia. There is no doubt that the force thus formed is in strong oppostion to the present state of Estonia and its achievements until the present day."
Pro Patria leader Tonis Lukas said the People's Union and the Center Party would find no allies.
"The Center Party and the People's Union are now criticizing the same shortcomings Ruutel promised to do away with," Lukas said. "Among other things they criticize the inactivity of their ministers, because the pay of educational and cultural workers, policemen, rescue and medical workers is in the sphere of administration of these parties' ministers."
Tartu University political analyst Rein Toomla said the decision was now virtually sealed. "That means I am sure there will be no result in Parliament, because the parties hold a little more than one third of the seats," he said.
"It will go to the electoral college, where Ruutel has quite a big chance of being elected. This is because the electoral college is made up of people from across the country, and many People's Union supporters, who all support Ruutel," said Toomla.
The announcement topped off a dramatic week in Estonian politics during which the two other presidential possibilities 's Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Ene Ergma 's were thrust into the spotlight.
The duo were left on the shortlist of possible candidates to stand for election in Parliament in two weeks, and last week the roundtable of five political parties decided to select both. Ergma would be presented as the favored candidate in the first round of parliamentary voting. If that failed, Ilves' name was to be put forward.
Ergma, a former high-profile scientist, joked about her nomination as the front-running candidate.
"It comes from a period when people were still living in caves. They would make women go into the caves first to check for predators," Ergma said.
Ilves, the high-profile, bow-tie wearing European Union parliamentarian, has released a book and held signing sessions in Tallinn bookstores, but the publicity has done nothing to help his chances.
The Center Party's cooperation with the People's Union means neither are likely to be elected. Both still have the possibility to stand against Ruutel in the electoral college, but analysts do not rate their chances highly.