Presidential candidates intensify PR efforts

  • 2001-08-16
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Estonia will be electing a new president on Aug. 27, the day when the Parliament and local government representatives elect the man who has the daunting task of filling the shoes of Lennart Meri, arguably the greatest statesman the Baltic states have seen this century, who steps down on Oct. 9.

To reach the final list in the presidential elections, which will be drawn up on the day, a candidate must receive at least 21 votes. The elections may be fully resolved in the first round if one of the candidates receives two-thirds of the votes of Estonia's 101 MPs during a secret ballot (at least 68 votes). If that fails, it's up to an electoral commission of the MPs and over 300 representatives of local governments to elect the president.

The Moderates hope the Parliament alone will manage to elect the president. "We still believe that in the parliamentary state of Estonia the president can and should be elected in Parliament,"Moderates' Secretary-General Tonu Koiv said. "In this way, the parties represented in the Parliament would show that they are above inter-party horse trading who consider in the first instance the interests of the state and society."

With less than two weeks left before the elections kick off, the candidates are continuing to struggle for positive publicity. But polls show there are only two serious competitors. One is Parliamentary Speaker Toomas Savi from the Reform Party, the other professor Peeter Tulviste of the Pro Patria Union.

The contenders' biographies seem respectable enough. But the candidates are promoting their campaigns in very different ways.

Tulviste, 56, holds a doctorate in psychology. He headed Tartu University from 1993 to 1998. In 1999 he held the chair of the City Council of Tartu. Tulviste is married, has two children and speaks fluent English, Russian and German. The presidency is the first political opportunity Tulviste has campaigned for at the national level.

His 59-year-old competitor Savi majored in sports medicine at the same university. He is married and has two daughters. Savi worked as a doctor for the Soviet Union's decathlon and athletics team from 1970 to 1980, and was deputy mayor of Tartu from 1992 to 1995. Savi speaks Finnish, English and Russian.

The final name to come from the ruling coalition is Andres Tarand, 61, the candidate for the Moderates. He has two sons with top jobs in the Foreign Ministry and State Chancellery, respectively. He studied geography at Tartu University. He speaks English, Finnish, Russian, and a smattering of German.

The People's Union party candidate, Arnold Ruutel, 73, was Estonia's leader from 1983 to 1990, when he was the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Estonian Soviet Republic, and played an important and positive role in the regaining of independence. Ruutel has a doctorate in agriculture, is married and father of two daughters.

The large opposition Center Party's great hope, 53-year-old Peeter Kreitzberg is not officially married but has three children. He trained as a math teacher in Tartu and received a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1993. He is fluent in English, Russian and Finnish.

Other candidates are Mati Pats, an independent candidate, and Jevgeni Tomberg and Aarand Roos of the United People's Party and Christian People's Party respectively.

This being "e-stonia,"aggressive online promotion has been used by Tulviste, Kreitzberg and Savi, each of whom have special Web sites set up especially for the elections. Ruutel and Tarand enjoy modest special election sections at their parties' sites, while the other competitors are not represented on the Internet at all except in a special presidential zone on the Delfi portal.

Only Kreitberg has a Russian version of his Web site, in an effort to draw the attention of the Russian-speaking third of the Estonian population. The others' Internet pages are only in Estonian.

But Kreitzberg's efforts seem to have backfired in an effort at using humor. In an online photo gallery of staged cheesy photos of Kreitzberg with jokey proverbs, much of the Russian version sounds obscure and off-target.

Savi's image was recently spoiled by the fact that Kadri Taim, his secretary, conducted a recent poll apparently showing that 35 percent of local government leaders were ready to support Savi in the elections. Taim arranged the poll this June and July in cooperation with the Civic Education Foundation - a subsidiary of Savi's Reform Party.

"My ties with the foundation are narrowed to my having carried out the latest poll,"Taim told the Eesti Paevaleht daily. Savi rejected he had any knowledge about the organization of the poll.

Tulviste's latest book, called "Vademecum,"published on July 9, contains his poems and an exclusive interview. Since then he has released another publication, a booklet heroically called "The President as a Bridge Builder."This consists of his presidential campaign promises and plans in a brief form, plus a short biography on the back page.

He said he did not know how much the booklet cost, but his team member and PR specialist Tonis Arro said that close to 70,000 kroons ($3,950) were spent.

The two leading candidates have stated that their election campaign budgets amount to about 300,000 kroons each. None of the other candidates is reported to have spent any more than that. Arro said that the main expenses for Tulviste's campaign were the two publications. "Vademecum"cost 150,000 kroons.

Tulviste presented the booklet at a news conference held Aug. 13 and noted that it would be a good idea for every candidate to issue a similar manifesto, "so people would have an opportunity to see if a candidate sticks to his promises after becoming president,"he said.