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Who can follow Ilves?

Estonia is bracing itself for a new President. The Parliament is expected to elect a new president this week. Starting with the first vote on the 29th of August at 1pm. Each party has put forth a candidate, and because the election of a candidate is not a public affair, it will be up to the Parliament to decide. That means that a new president won’t likely be picked among the initial list of candidates going through the first round.

If Parliament fails to reach an agreement on who the next president should be, the vote gets taken to an electoral college. Major newspapers in Estonia are predicting that there won’t ben enough horse trading this time around to get a clean election through parliament, meaning we’d be relying on a coalition of “elders” from each county. Perhaps a more provincial voting, which might open the way for a less “elitist” or “urbanite” “world view” president, and a more “estonian”, “voice of the people” kind of president. Martin Helme of the ultra nationalist EKRE party must certainly be hoping for that outcome.

I’ve always been amazed at the fact that in Estonia the parliament gets to elect the president, and not the people direclty. But then again taking a look at recent events in Estonia, together with Brexit in the UK, and Trump in the US, perhaps democracy is indeed overrated.

But Ilves is out, and a new president must be found. The list of candidates is long, and each party has put forward their best candidate.

To put it short, and in my humble opinion, there’s no one who can replace Ilves. No one with the vision and stature that T.H. has. Seriously, pick any of his most recent addresses and speeches and you’ll quickly see why.

But let’s not forget that Ilves, wasn’t always Ilves. He didn’t start his presidency as the visionary he is today. He wasn’t always the e-Estonia advocate we came to have. So there is also hope that Kallas or Jõks might in time, come to fill the shoes of the man who has come to symbolise Estonia.

The Ilves of today invokes to some the spirit of a Kohl or Mitterand when it comes to European ideals. But he is far more than just that. He is also deeply knowledgeable of all things IT, which make him a perfect match for the image of Estonia abroad. In one sentence, Ilves is the perfect representation of Estonia to the outside world. He embodies the spirirt of a small yet proud nation. In the final years of his mandate he may have lacked the internal support, especially outside of Tallinn and the urban elites, with many country folk calling him detached from reality and promoting a view of Estonia that not everyone agrees with.

Two questions going forward. What will Ilves do next? I’m sure he won’t just fall by the sidelines, and he will take an active role in society either in Estonia or Europe. Perhaps a position with the World Bank or UN?

Second question. Who will follow Ilves? My personal favorite is Marina Kaljurand, but I’d also be happy with either Siim Kallas or Alar Jõks. Kaljurand has the most international experience and as a woman she would definitely shape the internal discussion on the wage gap in Estonia. She’s the right person to take on Russia. Kallas is perhaps too “European” or too shaped by his time in Brussels as a commissioner, but he too would make a decent President.

Let’s face it. Ilves will be missed.

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