President for seven years

Presidendi kantselei

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

After last year's heated multiround presidential election and the birth of the new government a working group of the Center Party, Social Democrat Party, and IRL is planning to leave electing the president up to the electoral college for a single term of seven years.

Postimees has at its disposal draft legislation to amend the Constitution with the aim of changing the procedure of electing the president Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu sent to the coalition's working group on February 23.

The bill reveals that the president should be elected for a term of seven years (even a nine-year term was discussed at one point) without the possibility of running for a consecutive term.

The most significant change is that the president would no longer be elected by the parliament, the process instead beginning at the electoral college. The composition of the college would have to be at least three times bigger than that of the parliament, with 101 MPs complemented by twice their number from local governments. There would be more than 500 total electors at present as parishes and towns would send more than 400 delegates after the administrative reform is completed.

The ruling Center Party has traditionally been an avid proponent of direct presidential elections; however, there is virtually no chance to get it done in the current three-way coalition. Center can take solace in reduced significance of agreements made in the Riigikogu and greater say of local decision-makers in the future.

Center's representative in the six-member work group Peeter Ernits said that even though direct presidential elections have been one of the party's election promises, it will not be possible in the current coalition.

“This fall's presidential election trauma gave everyone reason to want to change the current system. The first principle is that we will have a single round of voting in the electoral college,” Ernits described. “Then we moved on to number of electors. How to count them in a situation where the administrative reform will cut the number of local governments in half. Having 101 MPs and just 70-80 parishes, we figured local governments could send more representatives. Whether 500, 750, or why not 1,000 electors. The figure is not set in stone at this time,” Ernits said.

Ernits finds the preliminary proposal to be slightly absurd. “I like the people of Kihnu and Ruhnu a lot. However, if the islands currently have a single elector, and Ruhnu is home to a little over one hundred people, the new system would give them both two electors, while the 10,000 people of the town of Haapsalu would only have five. That is not the most logical calculation,” Ernits said. “That said, it is a matter of discussion. We believe there could be more electors from parishes. If the people cannot vote for the president directly, we should give their representatives a louder voice.”

Head of the working group, Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL) said that the question of having a bigger electoral college will definitely be raised.

“The main thing is that the president's powers will not be changed, and we will surely have to find a solution to the kind of deadlock the Riigikogu found itself in at the beginning of fall. Inability to elect the president and a danger of the situation developing into a perpetuum mobile: the election would have kept moving from the Riigikogu to the electoral college and back again indefinitely. That is not normal,” Reinsalu said. “The system should also see the president come from among candidates who first start campaigning.”

Member of the working group, Chairman of the Riigikogu Eiki Nestor (SDE) is definitely in favor of the bill. “The subject matter of changing the procedure of presidential election was raised by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves himself; we discussed the matter, and came to the conclusion it would be a sensible thing to do,” Nestor said. He added that a president who would serve a single seven-year term would coincide with Ilves' position.

“I am definitely in favor of this proposal. The tragedy of these kinds of one-person political institutions is that initial excitement can turn into political tedium,” Nestor said. “Whereas that tedium might not hit the person in office bur rather their voters; everyone who has supported the elected president more or less.”

That is why Nestor believes it would be sensible to add a few years to the presidential term and take away the chance of a second one. While former presidents would be allowed to run again after a seven-year break, Nestor doubts anyone would want to.

A transitional period will see President Kersti Kaljulaid given the chance to run for a second five-year term because she first ran in the conditions of current legislation.

Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu was less than optimistic when asked about the likelihood of changes to the presidential elections procedure being passed this time. “Changes have been weighed before,” he admitted. “This requires amendment of the Constitution, which in turn requires much broader support than what the coalition has.”

Reinsalu said that the changes will not be discussed first by the government, and that rather it should be up to the Riigikogu. “I will present this bill to Eiki Nestor, and he could take it from there in the parliament,” Reinsalu said.

The next presidential election will take place in 2021.