Estonian parties closing in on compromise presidential candidate

By bne IntelliNews September 29, 2016

Estonian political parties appear to have finally overcome their deep divisions to find a compromise candidate to support ahead of a fourth effort to elect a new president on October 3. 

The post of president is largely ceremonial in Estonia, but the tussles over the election of the new head of state has exposed deep fractures across the political scene. Both the Estonian parliament and wider Electoral College have proved unable to push their way past party lines to agree on a new head of state.

As MPs will gather for yet another voting round on October 3, a consensus may have finally materialised. The Council of Elders, which groups party leaders in the parliament, has proposed Kersti Kaljulaid - a member of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) - as a candidate.

Most parties have rushed to declare support. Before taking up her post at the ECA, Kaljulaid was a member of the Pro Patria Union, which later transformed into the IRL, a junior member of the incumbent ruling coalition.

However, even should Kaljulaid be elected next week, the calls for changing the system for choosing a president will persist. "We are facing a new situation now and need new candidates. I hope that the [parliament] will elect Estonia's next president this time," remarked Presdient Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who will depart having served the constitutional limit of two terms, according to The Baltic Times. "I also hope the parliament learns from the present rollercoaster."

The scene for the standoff was set in March last year, when the general election produced a rainbow coalition led by the centre-right Reform Party alongside the left-leaning Social Democrats and right wing IRL. The Russian-linked Centre Party won the second most votes, but as usual was shunted aside by the rest.

Ilves 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 gain 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.

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