• 2006-08-30

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

These are far and away some of the saddest days in Estonia in recent memory. Sadder even than the recent death of Lennart Meri, former president and political icon who was instrumental in helping Estonians banish the half-century communist nightmare and embrace a democratic system based on the rule of law. No doubt, if Meri had a legacy, it was that those who are elected are duty-bound to uphold that rule of law and abandon partisan interests for the sake of the nation-state. Only in this way can a young, vulnerable democracy survive.

In what should have been a straightforward vote, Estonia's 101-seat parliament failed to elect a new president this week for lack of a qualified majority, or 68 votes. In the first round, Res Publica's Enn Ergma mustered 65, while in the second Social Democrat Toomas Hendrik Ilves managed only 64. MPs from the Center Party and the People's Union didn't even show up for the sessions, thereby torpedoing the entire affair. Their aim: to have incumbent Arnold Ruutel re-elected via an electoral college, which is activated when Parliament fails to elect a new head of state.

Both Ergma and Ilves are highly esteemed individuals whose credentials for the post of president are indisputable. But for their narrow, selfish reasons Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar and People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan want desperately to keep a 78-year-old farmer/ex-communist in Kadriorg. To justify their warped thinking, Savisaar, Reiljan and Ruutel assailed the parliamentary process and in doing so showed their utter lack of respect for it.

To Estonia's great misfortune, many politicians disregard political culture and democratic development. They see only naked opportunity 's finite and irresistible 's and consider domestic politics as a zero-sum game. Whereas the virtues of Meri are honesty and integrity, those of Savisaar, Reiljan and Ruutel are control and vanity. Fearing marginalization, or perhaps oblivion, they cling to power at all costs. The Soviet residue in their mentality is disheartening.
Ruutel, in fact, has behaved cowardly. If he practiced what he preached, he would have participated in the parliamentary round of elections and allowed MPs to decide whether they want him to be head of state. Knowing full well he would not muster more than what the center-left parties granted, he avoided the disgrace.

The president is also guilty of insincerity and vanity. He criticized this week's one-candidate ballots, knowing full well that if there had been two, three, five, or even 10 candidates, neither he nor the center-leftists would have participated anyway. Finally, Ruutel is simply too old. Does he honestly believe that technology-savvy Estonia needs an octogenarian president and that no one but him is dignified or experienced enough to occupy the post? This is his ultimate crime before the Estonian people.
Though what the center-leftist pulled off this week is an outrage, it was entirely legal. The electoral procedure is written into Estonia's constitution, and the Savisaar-Reiljan duo just exploited its flaws. And this will continue to occur in the future until the constitution is amended.

The other silver lining is that the center-leftists have shown their true face. This is a wake up call for the Reform Party, which occupies the government with the perfidious Savisaar-Reiljan camps. They've seen the center-left pact, the center-left vision of Estonia's future, and it is up to them to ensure it never sees the light of day. If they possess any of the virtues of Meri, they'll do it.