Soomere dropped 23 days before presidential election

Tarmo Soomere. PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

Riigikogu parties said on Friday that they will not nominate President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere (63) as their common presidential candidate as he does not have enough support in the parliament. Soomere can run again in the Electoral College should the Riigikogu fail to elect the president.

“We realized that President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere does not have enough support to be elected president in the Riigikogu on August 30,” coalition Center Party leader Jüri Ratas said on Friday morning, following a meeting of party heads.

“Signals from Riigikogu groups that met with Soomere suggest he does not have 68 votes,” Ratas told Postimees. Ratas, who first proposed Soomere’s candidacy, said that the Center Party was behind him. “I said during that meeting that the Center Party has 25 votes for Soomere,” Ratas said.

Only the opposition Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) had ruled out supporting Soomere. The remaining Riigikogu parties said, after meeting with Soomere, that they could support him following a nomination by the coalition. However, the ruling parties that have 59 votes between them did not want to commit before having certainty that Soomere would have nine votes from the opposition Isamaa or Social Democrat Party (SDE).

Fingers pointing in every direction

Parties proceeded to point the finger at one another in terms of why Soomere’s candidacy fell through. Jüri Ratas said that Isamaa and SDE did not seem to have enough votes. “We could have nominated [Soomere], while we clearly felt we would not have the votes between four parties,” Center deputy head Jaanus Karilaid added.

Head of SDE Indrek Saar said that explanations by the coalition partners seemed to suggest support for Soomere fell short mainly in the Reform Party.

“The coalition parties admitted they do not have the votes themselves, which is why they are taking down Soomere’s potential candidacy,” Saar said. “The Center Party admitted that they would need an [in-house] agreement in the council first and have not gotten that far yet. While hindsight is always 20/20, a common candidate needs to be found together,” Saar remarked.

“I said yesterday (Thursday – ed.) that Isamaa is not the problem,” secretary general of the opposition party Priit Sibul said. “The coalition must first introduce a candidate who has their full support. Toying with the sciences academy president was not seemly.”

Members of the Reform Party were baffled to learn fingers had been pointed at them.

“A few Reform MPs have been skeptical of Soomere’s candidacy, while some were undecided,” faction whip Mart Võrklaev said.

MPs Erkki Keldo and Heidy Purga said as much. “The impression we were left with after meeting Soomere was largely positive,” Purga said. Keldo added that the reason the coalition took down Soomere’s candidacy was a feeling he would not pass the secret ballot.

“All parties have a few people who do not support him, which is enough to make sure he would not get 68 votes,” Reform Party leader, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. Asked whether Kallas has information to suggest some members of Isamaa were also firmly against Soomere, the PM said that it felt honest to say Soomere does not have the votes after meeting with chairmen of other parties.

Other parties suggested it was Reform that sank the plan… “That is not true!” Kallas said. “It is probably an attempt to...”

“Both Isamaa and SDE are playing a political game where we [Center and Reform] are expected to produce a candidate, while it is clear that we cannot get them elected between the two of us,” Kallas said, adding that Isamaa said at the party chairmen meeting that Soomere does not have their support.

Seeder refuted Kallas’ claims. “Jüri Ratas made a concrete proposal, while it was not based on decisions by Riigikogu groups or party boards. There was no clarity in terms of Soomere being their common choice and candidate.”

“In truth, there was only a single faction that said all its members are willing to back Soomere. And we’re back where we started,” EKRE chair Martin Helme said. “I proposed factions also meet with Henn Põlluaas.”

Jüri Ratas said that parties agreed to continue efforts to find a candidate with broad-based support in society and will meet again on Monday.

Several political observers said that Soomere is still in with a chance. Parties that seem to be falling out over the election process might not be able to find a common candidate by August 30. Soomere could return in the Electoral College.

Two different source told Postimees on Friday evening that Ratas and Kallas will turn to Estonian Ambassador to NATO Jüri Luik.

Luik told the paper that he has not been contacted.