TALLINN - Estonia's intellectuals stepped into the pre-election debate last week, asking Parliament to seize its chance to elect the next head of state and criticizing President Arnold Ruutel for not participating in the parliamentary round of elections.
More than 200 Estonian academics, artists and business leaders, including Tallinn University Rector Rein Raud, signed a letter demanding that politicians fulfill their duty and elect the president through the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament.)
"A party or member of Parliament that shirks voting ignores the duty laid on him by the Constitution," the letter stated.
The intellectuals went on to criticize Ruutel for his refusal to run in the parliamentary round of elections.
"Failure to run in Parliament is a vote of no-confidence in the democratically elected representative body and the potential new head of state's expression of no-confidence in the Estonian people," they wrote. "We believe that 15 years after the restoration of independence we must turn a new page in the development of our country."
Legislators will meet on Aug. 28 in an extraordinary session to vote for the president, however it is expected the vote will fail due to an alliance between the Center Party and People's Union, who support incumbent Arnold Ruutel.
The letter was spurred by the decision of the two parties and Ruutel to ignore Parliament and use the Electoral College system, which was only intended as a last resort.
Raud said that politicians who sought to override Parliament were trampling on the constitution.
"Although Estonia is a parliamentary republic and maintains the principle that the president is elected by Parliament, it seems some parties are trying to ignore this," Raud said. "The procedure has been summed up in the Constitution, and we suppose that elected members should follow it. If they don't wish for such a procedure, they should start changing the constitution."
The letter also criticized "some presidential candidates" for not wanting to "face Parliament," a thinly-veiled reference to Ruutel's position.
However, Raud said the letter was not intended to be "anti-Ruutel."
"It's not for or against any particular person, but it is for the Constitution. If somebody wants to run for office, they should do it according to the Constitution. The Electoral College should only be used in an emergency. Also, we feel that an honest campaign for the presidency should involve public debates, where a lot of questions are asked of the candidates. However, some candidates don't want to be involved in such debates either."
The other two authors of the letter were Signe Kivi, rector of the Estonian Academy of Arts, and Eve Kask, a prominent artist. Raud described the 200-plus signatories as "intellectuals," and said the group included composers, directors, artists, writers, scientists and academics. Raud added that the group felt it was their duty to speak out.
"We wrote [the letter] and sent it to a couple of colleagues, asking them to sign it and distribute it if they agreed. Within 24 hours it had gathered more than 200 signatures. This demonstrates that a lot of people feel the same way." Although he was pessimistic about the letter's influence, Raud said the group felt a need to write it "for our own consciences."
It appeared that some politicians were "bargaining for cows," the academic said. "That is an old Estonian term, used before the war, for such political behavior that forgets general principles in order to pursue one's interests. This seems like such a case."
When Parliament meets on Aug. 28, it will put forward for election Ene Ergma, the current deputy speaker of the house and a former prominent scientist. She will be the first woman to stand for the position of president.
However, because of the alliance between the Center Party and the People's Union, Ergma is not expected to gain the necessary two-thirds of votes required for election. The two parties hold 35 of Parliament's 101 seats between them, putting them ahead by one seat.
If Ergma's name is rejected, Parliament will hold a second round of voting, this time considering the candidacy of Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Ilves, a high-profile politician and author, enjoys a good reputation as one of Estonia's representatives at the European Parliament and is considered a strong candidate.
However, it is expected that he will also fail to gain a two-thirds majority because of the Center Party-People's Union power nexus.
In that case, an Electoral College will be convened in October. The Electoral College is drawn from a wide base of councilors and politicians from across the country, including a large number from rural constituencies where Ruutel enjoys strong support.
It is precisely this back-door method into power that the intellectual's letter speaks out against.