Estonian political parties overcame divisions and produced the required majority in parliament on October 3 to elect Kersti Kajlulaid, a member of the European Court of Auditors, as the country’s first female president. The vote ends weeks of deadlock that led some to call for a constitutional reform.
The 46-year old economist emerged as a compromise candidate after a series of voting rounds in the parliament and in the wider body known as the Electoral College failed to produce a result. Wary of the swelling crisis and amidst calls for changes in the presidential election rules, Estonian parties indicated over the weekend that they were ready to support Kaljulaid.
The president-elect received 81 votes in the vote on October 3, well above the 68 needed to clinch the presidency. A biologist by education, Kaljulaid has spent most of her professional life in business and banking with stints as an economic advisor to the government and - since 2004 until now - as a member of the European Court of Auditors.
Kaljulaid supports conservative economic policies, but is on record with having a liberal outlook on social issues such as LGBT rights and immigration. In interviews for Estonian media ahead of the vote, she mentioned the gender pay gap as a big problem in Estonia
In foreign policy she has backed the views of the outgoing President Toomas Hendrik Ilves that Russia should be deterred at Nato’s borders while the EU should keep sanctions against Moscow, even if the sanctions have “not worked thus far", she told ETV television on October 2. Estonia, like other Baltic states, has grown wary of Russia after the Crimean crisis in 2014.
The post of president is largely ceremonial in Estonia, but Kaljulaid will take over from Ilves, who has managed to become a high profile representative of the small Baltic state. He has made the presidential palace a seat of power - particularly in terms of foreign policy - meaning the post has gained in importance for parties struggling to stamp their authority on the fractured political scene.
Ilves has especially been vocal in the context of renewed tensions in Eastern Europe since Russia's conflict with Ukraine launched in 2014. At times of internal political tensions, Ilves has also acted as catalyst for agreement, as was the case during government coalition talks after the election of 2015, which produced the current rainbow coalition.
Kaljulaid will be sworn in on October 10. Priot to the vote on October 3, a group of MPs submitted a proposal for an amendment in the Estonian constittion to introduce direct election of the president.