Estonia is preparing for a rare presidential election in parliament. There will be only one candidate in Monday’s referendum, the highest level since the Baltic nation gained independence 30 years ago.
The five-year term of President Kersey Caljouloid expires on October 10, and lawmakers in the 101-seat Rigiko parliament will often have to elect a new head of state to replace him in a formal ceremony.
As more candidates have not been registered before Saturday’s deadline, only the director of the Estonian National Museum, Alar Carris, will be the only candidate. Only former state auditor Carris was able to garner the support of at least 21 legislators.
Having a single candidate vote has caused chaos in the country, and many politicians have called for a complete overhaul of Estonia’s complex presidential election system.
Some Estonians have suggested that the smaller European country, where the prime minister has more political power, should abolish the presidency altogether.
In a recent article, former defense minister and diplomat Jack Joroud said, “Elections with one candidate are Soviet-era. It is unethical, but, curiously, it is legal. “
Once a former Soviet republic with a population of 1.3 million, Estonia gained independence in 1991 and is now a member of both the European Union and NATO.
If the president is directly elected by the people, the liberal Caljouloid will run for a second term. Estonia’s first female president is fairly popular among the people.
But he receives little support from lawmakers, apparently because of his honesty about fellow politicians and government policies.
The 63-year-old Karis was backed by Prime Minister Gaja Gallos’ reform party and the center-party, which will form Estonia’s center-right coalition government.
Both sides praised him for his understanding of Estonian society and saw his academic background (he led the University of Dord, Estonia’s leading educational institution) and his work as an auditor as a significant strength.
Tonis Charts, an associate professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University, agrees with the assessment, but noted that Caris is new to foreign policy.
“He may be one of the best prepared candidates considering the dimension of national politics, but he has no practical experience in foreign policy making and diplomacy,” Charts told the Associated Press.
Karis needs a two-thirds majority or 68 votes in parliament to be elected by secret ballot.
The ruling coalition has 59 votes and is likely to win the support of at least nine legislators from the three opposition parties.
The right-wing People’s Party EKRE has proposed its own candidate, but there are not enough legislators to register it.
Conservative Patria, a small opposition party, has said it agrees with Caris on a number of issues, but has given its lawmakers the freedom to vote.
Meanwhile, Social Democrats are divided between Caljulloid and Caris, but the party has very few legislators and allies to propose that the current president run for re-election.
If lawmakers reject Caris on Monday, two more rounds of voting are scheduled for Tuesday. If it fails, the election will be transferred to a special election college with 208 members, which will vote for a new head of state in September.
According to the Estonian constitution, the role of the president is primarily to represent the nation abroad and to act as a national opinion leader.
However, the Supreme Commander of the Estonian Armed Forces is also the President, duly appoints members of the government, signs laws to validate them, and has the power to veto bills.