Karis is the only candidate on Estonian presidential ballot

Karis is the only candidate on Estonian presidential ballot
President Kersti Kaljulaid pictured with former premier and current leader of the Centre Party Juri Ratas.
By bne IntelliNews August 30, 2021

Estonian lawmakers have spurned incumbent President Kersti Kaljulaid and nominated Alar Karis, currently director of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) and a former auditor general and University of Tartu rector, as the sole candidate in the parliamentary vote for the next president of Estonia.

In the first round of voting in the Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament, on August 27, 59 members of the Riigikogu nominated Karis, 63, making him the only candidate on the ballot after Kaljulaid lost favour with lawmakers. Prime minister Kaja Kallas’s Reform party and the Centre party – which make up Estonia’s centre-right coalition government – have endorsed Karis. The voting in the parliament will take place on August 30.

Had the president been directly elected by the people, the liberal Kaljulaid would likely win a second term. Estonia’s first female president is quite popular among the public. But she enjoys little support from lawmakers, reportedly due to her outspokenness about fellow politicians and government policies.

MPs from the opposition Isamaa and the ruling Social Democratic Parties (SDE) remain mostly tight-lipped about how they will be voting on the coalition's proposed presidential candidate. Voting on a president at the Rigiikogu is by secret ballot, adding to MPs' reluctance to state their intentions.

The two parties' leaders have permitted their MPs to vote their own way on Karis. Isamaa and SDE met separately with Karis last week, though some MPs from both parties suggested August 26 about half of them will vote for him. If this turns out to be the case, Karis would amass enough votes to become president.

Speaking to various Estonian media, Karis said the fact that only the two governing parties have announced their support for him shows that democracy works in Estonia.

"It is actually a good thing that (only) two political parties took such a position. It shows that democracy works, that it is not the case that all political parties are behind one man," Karis said on the "Esimene stuudio" ("First Studio") show of public ETV television late on August 27.

Karis said he has not called any MPs to win support for himself. "I do not use this policy. People have called me, but I have not shown initiative myself," he said.

According to Karis, his job, if he were to be elected president, is to show that he was not a compromise candidate. He also said one shouldn't place too much importance in opinion polls, which show incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid as the preference of the people.

"If you look at the previous elections, Kersti Kaljulaid would not have been the number one either, according to the polls," Karis said.

Karis noted that the dispute over the presidential election system should be discussed after the vote and, if necessary, changes made to the system.

Asked whether he was seen as a president of convenience, Karis said he did not see it that way. "It's assumed that the president has to fight with the government, with the parliament, I don't think so... But I don't think I'm a comfortable person. Don't count on it," he said.

Karis admitted that he has a conservative worldview in certain things. "Yes, of course, because I like traditions. Language and culture are very important to me," he said.

When asked by the host who he thinks is a true Estonian, Karis replied that it is a person who respects the Estonian Constitution. "The constitution says everything, and especially in the preamble. I think it says a lot," he said.