TALLINN – Estonia’s Parliament on Monday failed to elect a new president to the Baltic country after lawmakers rejected the only candidate in the first round of voting.
Alar Karis, director of the Estonian National Museum, received support from 63 lawmakers with 16 blank votes and the rest either absent or abstaining in the 101-seat Riigikogu legislature. He needed a two-thirds majority, or 68 votes, to be elected in the secret ballot.
The result means that further rounds of voting will be held on Tuesday.
The 63-year-old Karis, a former state auditor and university head, was the only candidate running in the election to succeed Kersti Kaljulaid, Estonia’s first female president. She couldn't seek another five-year term in office because she failed to obtain the support of 21 lawmakers to nominate her as a candidate.
“Tomorrow's another day. I trust we'll get a different kind of result,” Karis told reporters immediately after election officials had announced the official results.
It is possible for lawmakers to register new candidates into the election with Karis until early Tuesday but, by late Monday, there were no indications that would happen.
Under Estonia’s complex presidential election system, another two voting rounds are scheduled for Tuesday. If that fails to yield a result, the election will be transferred to a special 208-member electoral college consisting of lawmakers and representatives of municipalities who would vote in September.
Should even that body fail to elect the head of state, the vote would move back to Parliament and the process would start all over again. That’s what happened in 2016 when Kaljulaid was eventually elected by lawmakers after even the special electoral body couldn’t come up with a result.
Karis was seen as having a good chance of being elected because Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ Reform Party and the Center Party — which make up Estonia’s center-right coalition government with a total of 59 seats at the Riigikogu — endorsed him earlier this month.
The two parties praised Karis' solid academic background, including heading the University of Tartu, Estonia’s main academic institution, and his understanding of Estonian society.
Two of the opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the conservative Fatherland, also indicated reasonable support for Karis, while the populist right-wing EKRE party, also in opposition, indicated it wouldn't support him after the party failed to register its own proposed candidate into the election.
The prime minister holds most power in Estonia, a European Union and NATO member of 1.3 million people, while the role of the president is largely ceremonial — including representing the nation abroad and acting as a domestic opinion leader.
But the president's powers include being the supreme commander of Estonia’s armed forces, formally appointing government members and signing laws to make them valid. The president also has the authority to veto laws.