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Estonia - Presidential Election

Presidential election in Estonia, a round up one week before the vote

Presidential election in Estonia, a round up one week before the vote

24/08/2006 - D-7

The appointment of the candidate for the first round of the presidential election on 28th August by the five political parties in Parliament eligible to take part in the selection - Res Publica (Res), the Reform Party (ER), the Pro-Patria Union (I), the Centre Party (EK) and the Social Democrat Party (SDE)- was to take place on 3rd August last. However on that day the Centre Party sent a letter to the four other parties in the Riigikogu, the only Chamber in Parliament, asking them for more time in choosing between the two candidates running; Edgar Savissar's party wanted to postpone the appointment until 14th August. The meeting between the parties represented in Parliament was adjourned until 10th August.

On 10th August the parties in the Riigikogu – Res Publica, the Reform Party, the Pro-Patria Union and the Social Democrat party appointed the Vice President of Parliament, astrophysicist, Ene Ergma (Res) as candidate in the first round of the presidential election. "We chose Ene Ergma because she appears the most likely to win the support of most of the political parties in Parliament", stressed Taavi Veskimagi, Chairman of Res Publica.
"By promoting Ene Ergma rather than the true favourite Tomaas Hendrik Ilves they are attempting to prevent the re-election of Arnold Rüütel" analyses political expert Rein Toomla from the University of Tartu.
Commenting on her appointment Ene Ergma said that it reminded her of the old joke whereby men stood aside to allow women to the fore since back in the time when people lived in caves they allowed the women to enter first to ensure that there were no predators inside. She said that she did not know whether she would stand before the parliamentary assembly if Parliament did not succeed in electing the future President of the Republic.
If Ene Ergma is not elected in the first round of the election the present MEP Tomaas Hendrik Ilves (SDE) will be the candidate in the second round. He has also said that he would stand for election before the parliamentary assembly if Parliament did not succeed in electing the future President of the Republic.

On 13th August the Centre Party gathered together the 130 members (party leaders, its parliamentary group and its regional representatives) of its council in Tallinn. The President of the Republic in office Arnold Rüütel gave a speech at the end of which the members of the Council chose their candidate in a secret ballot. 94 voted for Arnold Rüütel, three for Ene Ergma and two for Tomaas Hendrik Ilves. "President Arnold Rüütel is a true Statesman; he has always been calm and succeeded in pinpointing dangers when it was necessary", said the Centre Party leader, Edgar Savisaar.
With regard to the Centre Party's choice and the resulting criticism on the part of the other political parties as well as some political observers Ain Seppik, leader of the Centre Party's parliamentary group highlighted the fact that the candidates put forward by his party –the Speaker in Parliament, Toomas Varek, MP Enn Eesma (EK) and the Chairman of the Council of Tartu, Aadu Must (EK) – were eliminated quite rapidly by the other parties in a gesture of hypocrisy. "It is particularly cynical that the Centre Party is now blamed for the failure of the negotiations", said Ain Seppik.

On 14th August the People's Union (KE) and the Centre Party officially signed their strategic co-operation agreement in view of the upcoming presidential election (support of Arnold Rüütel by both parties) as well as the general elections planned for March 2007 (creation of an electoral alliance between two parties whereby, if they win, the post of Prime Minister would come to the leader of the party which won the greatest number of votes). Both parties would like to form "an electoral block" until 2011. The text includes a number of electoral promises: the desire for a strong State, increase in the lowest income tax band, the re-establishment of a more progressive income tax rate, increase in retirement pensions, healthcare reform etc .. Both parties have said they are open to talks with all other parties who want to join them. "I believe the co-operation agreement between the two parties is remarkable and that this is moving towards the future; I do hope that it will help in bringing together Estonian society", said the present President of the Republic, Arnold Rüütel.
Eiki Nestor, MP for the Social Democrat Party qualified the agreement as "a propaganda trap". "If we look at this agreement we have the impression that the parties do not belong to the present government coalition", he stressed. Taavi Veskimagi, president of Res Publica, maintained that "the alliance created by the two parties is totally opposite to modern Estonia and everything the country has achieved today". Tonis Lukas, President of the Pro-Patria Union stressed that the agreement criticised the "incompetence and inertia of the Ministers belonging to the Centre Party and the People's Union who are at present responsible for the salaries of the police, healthcare personnel, teachers, etc. The presidential election is an important occasion that must not be confused with the general elections", he added.

According to a poll undertaken by Faktum&Ariko, 37% of Estonians would like Tomaas Hendrik Ilves to become the President of the Republic versus 27% who are in favour of Arnold Rüütel and 18% for Ene Ergma. The MEP is supported by the young (aged 18 to 34) and the Estonians whilst the present Head of States is appreciated by older people and Russian speakers.
Finally Ene Ergma is most popular amongst women and the highly educated. Estonians believe however that Arnold Rüütel will be elected for a second term in office (38%, versus 24% who are hoping for a victory on the part of Tomaas Hendrik Ilves and 12% Ene Ergma).
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Rodolphe Laffranque
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