Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 158

The Estonian parliament yesterday held the second and third rounds of balloting to elect the country’s president (see Monitor, August 27). The incumbent, Lennart Meri, inched up to 52 votes in the third round, well short of the 68 votes required for reelection. Challenger Arnold Ruutel, the parliament’s vice-chairman, finished with 32 votes. Most deputies of the Coalition Party of Prime Minister Tiit Vahi and Reform/Liberal Party of Foreign Minister Siim Kallas stood by Meri; but other deputies previously expected to support the president ended up withholding their support. Meri has been increasingly perceived recently as tending to ignore parliamentary prerogatives and failing to consult with the legislature in advance of important decisions. His critics are also asking him to conclusively refute allegations of past collaboration with the KGB.

Ruutel’s main support in parliament comes from the bloc of rural parties, which are also in the governing coalition. A trained agricultural specialist, Ruutel was chairman of parliament during the culminating phase of Estonia’s struggle for independence. Programmatic differences between Meri and Ruutel, who also ran against each other in 1992, are insignificant.

The election now goes to a special electoral college comprised of the parliament’s 101 deputies and 273 regional representatives, and which must convene and vote within 30 days. Ruutel is thought to stand a better chance in the electoral college because of his good standing with many local officials. The college may also consider additional candidates nominated by at least 21 of its members. Some deputies yesterday began suggesting alternative candidates. (BNS, Western agencies, August 27)

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