The head of the museum is the only candidate for the Estonian presidency

The head of the museum is the only candidate for the Estonian presidency

Estonia is preparing for a rare presidential election in parliament. There will be only one candidate in Monday’s vote, an unprecedented situation since the Baltic state regained its independence 30 years ago.

President Kristi Kaljulaid’s five-year term ends on October 10, and lawmakers in the 101-seat Rijikogo Parliament must elect a new head of state to replace her in the more ceremonial position.

As no more candidates register before the Saturday deadline, the director of the Estonian National Museum, Alar Karis, will be the only candidate. Karis, a former state auditor, is the only one who has managed to gain the support of the required minimum of 21 deputies.

A single-candidate vote has thrown the country into confusion, and many politicians have called for an overhaul of Estonia’s complex presidential election system.

Some Estonians have even suggested that the small European nation, where the prime minister wields most political power, should abolish the position of head of state altogether.

Jacques Guerrot, a former defense minister and diplomat, said in a recent opinion piece that “elections with a candidate belong to the Soviet era. It is immoral, but strangely enough, it is legal.”

Once a Soviet republic, Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, regained its independence in 1991 and is now a member of both the European Union and NATO.

If the president had been elected directly by the people, the liberal Calgullaid would seek a second term. The first female president of Estonia is reasonably popular with the public.

But he does not have much support from lawmakers, apparently due to his outspokenness about fellow politicians and government policies.

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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ Reform Party and the Center Party, which form Estonia’s centre-right coalition government, backed 63-year-old Karis.

Both parties praised him for his understanding of Estonian society, his vision of his academic background (he led the University of Tartu, Estonia’s leading academic institution) and his work as an auditor as core strengths.

Tonis Sartes, associate professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University, agrees with this assessment, but notes that Karis is a foreign policy novice.

“He may be one of the best prepared candidates given the national policy dimension, but he has had no practical experience with foreign policy-making and diplomacy,” Sartes 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 other deputies from three opposition parties.

The right-wing populist party EKRE proposed its own candidate, but it did not have enough lawmakers to register it.

The Patria Conservative Party, a small opposition party, said it agreed with Karis on several issues, but gave its lawmakers the freedom to vote.

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats are divided between Kaljulaid and Karis, but the party has too few lawmakers and allies to propose the incumbent’s nomination for re-election.

If lawmakers reject Karis on Monday, two more rounds of voting are scheduled for Tuesday. If that fails, the election will be moved to a special 208-member Electoral College that will vote for a new head of state in September.

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According to the Estonian constitution, the role of the president is primarily to represent the nation abroad and to act as a leader of national opinion.

However, the president is also the commander-in-chief of the Estonian armed forces, formally appoints members of the government, signs laws to make them effective, and has the power to veto bills.

Aygen Marsh

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