Former British MP Lembit Öpik considers running for Estonian presidency

Lembit Öpik told the BBC that he is considering contesting the Estonian presidency when it next comes up for election.

Öpik, who served as a Liberal Democrat member of the UK parliament representing the constituency of Montgomeryshire in Wales from 1997 until he lost his seat in the 2010 general election, told the BBC that “he is constantly asked to consider running to become the president of Estonia.”

Öpik had been asked to consider being either a member of the Estonian parliament, or to consider running as president. “One position is just to be a member of parliament, which I would not mind doing. The other position is president of Estonia. It is more than just a non-executive role – I could make quite a big splash,” Öpik said to the British public service broadcaster.

According to the former MP, he does not have a campaign plan but if he has support in Estonia, he would consider running. “I am seriously interested in doing it, if it looks like Estonia feels like I have got something to contribute,” Öpik said.

A controversial life and career in the UK

Öpik’s parents fled Estonia in 1944, in fear of the advancing Soviet troops that occupied the country again. They settled in Northern Ireland, part of the UK, where Lembit was born in 1965. He graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in philosophy.

Before entering politics, Öpik worked for Procter & Gamble. Starting his political career in Newcastle, he was elected as a councillor to the city council there in 1992. In the 1997 general election, the previous Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire retired and Öpik successfully ran as the Lib Dem candidate. He retained his seat in the 2001 general election and in the 2005 general election, but lost his seat to the Conservative candidate in the 2010 general election.

Following his defeat in 2010, Öpik’s political career stalled. He put himself forward to be the Liberal Democrats’ nominee for mayor of London in the 2012 mayoral election, but in the first round of the party’s selection ballot, he came in fourth with 252 votes and was eliminated from the process.

In the British public life, however, Öpik is still very much a visible and well-known figure. He has appeared in several popular TV programmes – including BBC’s “Have I Got News for You” and “Question Time” – and has participated in comedy shows and written columns. He also presents regular programmes on the BBC’s Radio Kent.

In the UK, Öpik is considered a fairly controversial persona. As an MP, Öpik drew attention by warning that an asteroid may wipe out life on Earth (his Estonian grandfather, Ernst Öpik, was an astronomer and astrophysicist who also fled Estonia in 1944 and spent the second half of his career at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland). He even called on the government to invest ₤1 million a year in tracking asteroids to avert catastrophe.

Cheeky move

The British public opinion turned somewhat negative about Öpik in 2006, when he dumped his fiancée, the Welsh television presenter, Siân Lloyd, in favour of the then-24-year-old Romanian pop singer Gabriela Irimia – known in the UK as one half of The Cheeky Girls. His subsequent active participation in TV programmes and comedy shows, however –coupled by a self-deprecating humour – has made him more likable among the public again.

The next Estonian presidential election is due to take place in 2021. Kersti Kaljulaid, the first female president of Estonia, was elected to the post in 2016. In order to enter into the presidential election race, Öpik would have to be an Estonian citizen – and according to the Estonian laws, renounce his British citizenship.

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Cover: Lembit Öpik.

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About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and Politics & Society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.