Home Stretch for Ilves

By The Baltic Times

Estonia’s President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was on May 23 all but guaranteed a second term in office, after three of the Baltic nation’s political parties pledged to back him, reports AFP. “He is most likely to be the first Estonian president to win an election outright in parliament,” Defense Minister Mart Laar, chairman of the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, told public broadcaster ETV.

Estonia’s head of state is elected by parliament, not the public, and needs the support of two-thirds of the country’s 101 lawmakers to avoid a run-off and win office directly.
Laar’s party, the junior partner in Estonia’s coalition government, decided formally to back Ilves for a second term when parliament votes on Aug. 29. Its support would give Ilves a combined 75 votes, making him a shoo-in for a new five-year term in the nation of 1.3 million.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip’s center-right Reform Party – the coalition’s leading force – and the opposition Social Democrats have already pledged to support him.
“Even if the fourth parliamentary party, the Center Party, comes out with its own candidate, that will not change anything,” political analyst Agu Uudelepp told ETV.

Ilves previously was a Social Democrat, but gave up his membership in 2006 after winning the presidency, which in Estonia is an essentially non-partisan and ceremonial post.

The president was born in 1953 in Sweden, where his parents fled during Estonia’s World War II takeover by the Soviet Union. He was raised in the United States, and later worked in Germany for Radio Free Europe, beaming broadcasts behind the Iron Curtain. He left the station in 1993, two years after Estonia won independence as the Soviet Union crumbled, to join the new Estonian diplomatic service, serving as ambassador in Washington.
He became foreign minister in 1996, a lawmaker in 2002, and was part of Estonia’s first cohort in the European Parliament after its 2004 European Union entry.

Ilves is Estonia’s third president since independence from the Kremlin. He won narrowly in 2006, when incumbent Arnold Ruutel failed to muster enough support to avoid a run-off.