The outcome of Estonia's presidential election is the best thing that could happen for the country and should be applauded not just by all Estonians, but by all Balts. It was a close battle, and in the end required only a few electors to see things reasonably and reject the forces of darkness 's i.e., the Center Party and the People's Union, both of which are aspiring to create a neo-populist state based on naked ambition and irresponsible fiscal policy 's and elect as head-of-state an individual who represents honesty, transparency and modernity.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves will do for Estonia what Vaira Vike-Freiberga has done for Latvia and Valdas Adamkus for Lithuania. He will lend the country a stronger voice and raise its profile in the West 's in the EU as well as the United States. This was something that the outgoing president, Arnold Ruutel, was unable to accomplish by virtue of his age, Soviet background and lack of English language. For Estonia, one of Europe's smallest nations that is marketing itself as technologically savvy, another five years of Ruutel would have been a drag on the country's image. To be fair, Ruutel has not been a bad president 's the problem is that Estonia needs a creative, outgoing president, and not an octogenarian figure beholden to Center Party dictator Edgar Savisaar.
At the same time, Ruutel's refusal to participate in the parliamentary round of elections last month was an act of political cowardice, not unlike Savisaar's indecision when it came time for the Center Party to endorse EU membership for Estonia. These two men's refusal to take a stance on matters of utmost importance shows their lack of courage and character. Furthermore, cooperation between the Center Party and the People's Union, manifested in a written agreement in which they lay out their future vision of Estonia, showed Savisaar's true beliefs, and for this we should be thankful to the democratic process (as Prime Minister Andrus Ansip pointed out).
An Estonia under Ilves will project a different image, even if Kadriorg possesses far more symbolism than real power. Now we will hear more about EU and NATO-related issues in Estonia, given Ilves' fondness for discussion and debate. With over two years' of experience as a member of European Parliament under his belt, he will know how to both influence Brussels and move Estonia closer to Brussels. As Ilves continually emphasizes, the Baltic states are not doing enough to be heard in the 25-nation bloc.
But on the horizon is another battle. Parliamentary elections are slated for next March, and if past polls are any yardstick, then the Savisaar-led Centrists are poised to win. They won, by the way, in March 2003, beating the upstart Res Publica party by a slight margin, and then last year literally blew away the competition in municipal elections. They now dominate Tallinn's City Council. The party's formula for success if well-known, and Estonia's right-wing parties, together with Ilves' Social Democrats, are at a loss to come up with a way to counter it. This will be their number one task this winter.