Põlluaas’ presidential road reaches first milestone

Meinhard Pulk
, reporter
Henn Põlluaas presenting his program on Thursday.
Henn Põlluaas presenting his program on Thursday. Photo: Sander Ilvest

Even though the stars are not aligned for the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) and Henn Põlluaas – the opposition party lacks the votes needed to set up his candidacy in the Riigikogu – the national conservatives delivered the symbolic and ceremonial opening accord of the fall presidential election on Thursday.

Its fall into the opposition has turned EKRE into a political pariah once more. The party has 19 seats in the Riigikogu and is, therefore, unable to officially set up Põlluaas’ candidacy in the parliament on its own, as this requires the support of 21 MPs.

Nevertheless, EKRE leader Martin Helme said in May that he has in his head a roadmap that will see Põlluaas elected Estonia’s sixth president.

Helme claims he is making good progress a month later. There is no serious competition to speak of after long-time favorite, Center Party chair Jüri Ratas said he does not plan to run. “Looking at the helplessness of the rest of the political landscape in preparing for presidential elections, I believe revealing and introducing our candidate have been the correct steps. It is important for the people of Estonia to know who they’re dealing with,” Helme told Postimees.

The EKRE leader realizes that Põlluaas could only be elected in the Electoral College where the national conservatives have the 21 votes needed to set up their candidate. “However, winning the election takes more than 21 votes at around a hundred. It is feasible but requires political agreements,” Helme said, adding that the president has never been elected by just one or two parties working together. He does not like the chances of [President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences] Tarmo Soomere and [Chancellor of Justice] Ülle Madise. The former is a political novice, while Helme believes both candidates lack sufficiently broad-based political support.

Why would other parties back Põlluaas? Helme gave two reasons. Firstly, they do not have a candidate of their own to support and who excites them. Secondly, parties might be worried that the presidential election getting bogged down could get in the way of fall local government council elections.

Põlluaas, who gave a 40-minute speech at the Meriton Hotel Tallinn, concentrated on several core EKRE topics, such as immigration, demographics and the Estonia-Russia border. He also set himself in contrast to President Kersti Kaljulaid, saying that he plans to be everyone’s president.

“I will not pick sides. I will not announce to the world that I love or hate particular parties or ideologies. I will definitely not assume the role of a high and mighty sovereign who admonishes the people, shakes their fist, criticizes and sows division instead of celebrating national holidays. On the contrary, I will try to serve as a president to unite the people and serve as a balancing influence.”

Põlluaas promised to be free of political and ideological fetters. “As befits the president,” he said.

The EKRE member said that previous presidents haven’t even tried to represent the entire nation. “The first thing I will do is leave the party, as requires by law, and I will do my utmost to serve as president to the entire nation, be a uniting force instead of a divisive one. I have served as mayor of Saue and Riigikogu speaker and been praised for maintaining a more balanced line than some of my predecessors in those roles.”