Former European auditor Kersti Kaljulaid elected president of Estonia

The former state official of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, was on Monday elected president of the country in the parliament, Riigikogu. The sole candidate, 81 MPs out of 101 cast their votes in her support. Kaljulaid will serve as the first female president of Estonia.

Kaljulaid, a former member of the European Court of Auditors, was a non-partisan candidate to run for president. She was proposed as the only candidate after several failed rounds in the Estonian presidential elections.

Consensus candidate

The previous election failed first in the parliament in August and then in the electoral college in September, when all the proposed candidates – Eiki Nestor, Siim Kallas, Marina Kaljurand, Mailis Reps, Mart Helme, Allar Jõks – were unsuccessful to secure majority support from the different political parties.

After the failed election in the electoral college, the “council of elders” of the parliament, that included representatives of all parliamentary parties, plus the speaker and two deputy speakers, aimed to find a consensus candidate and ultimately agreed on Kaljulaid. After asking for her consent, they then proposed her as the only presidential candidate. Her candidacy was supported by 90 MPs. On 3 October, Kaljulaid was elected president by 81 votes – at least 68 votes were needed to elect a president in the parliament.

The first female president of Estonia

The 46-year-old Kaljulaid will serve as the first female president of the Nordic country, joining the club of nine men who have served as either presidents or presidents-in-exile since 1938. Before that year, between 1918 and 1938, the head of state bore several different titles, even though their duties were similar to the modern-day president’s.

Kersti Kaljulaid was born in Tartu, the second largest town in Estonia, in 1969. She graduated from high school in Tallinn, where she was a member of students’ scientific association, specialising in ornithology. Kaljulaid earned her degree from the University of Tartu in biology and later supplemented her education by obtaining MBA in business management at the same university.

Successful career

Although biologist by qualification, she quickly realised that it would be difficult to make ends in meet in this profession – the early 1990s Estonia was a poor place and Kaljulaid was also a young mother. She chose a more lucrative career instead, first working as a sales manager at the state-owned telecom company, Eesti Telefon, then as a project manager at Hoiupank, followed by a post in the investment banking arm of Hansapank, which by that time was already the most successful bank in Estonia (Hansapank was later sold to the Swedish banking corporation, Swedbank).

By 1999, when the reform-minded Estonian politician, Mart Laar, formed his second government, Kaljulaid’s reputation as an intelligent, quick-witted and efficient professional, was already so well-known that she was offered the prime minister’s economic advisor position – a post she held for three years.

In 2002, Kaljulaid became the director of Iru Power Plant, a subsidiary of the state-owned energy company. She was the first female to lead a power plant; her employer later characterised her as a highly effective and well-organised administrator, who by explaining her views and ideas, but at the same time listening others, successfully implemented a new organisational behaviour.

In 2004, after Estonia joined the European Union, Kaljulaid was chosen as the country’s representative in the European Court of Auditors, based in Luxembourg. The primary role of the court is to externally check if the budget of the European Union has been implemented correctly, in that EU funds have been spent legally and with sound management. Kaljulaid remained on that post until she was proposed as the presidential candidate.

Keeping in touch with Estonia

During a time away from Estonia, Kaljulaid always kept in touch with her country – she was a regular participant in a political analysis programme of the Tallinn-based Radio Kuku and wrote numerous opinion pieces in the Estonian media. Since 2011, she has been a member of the board of the University of Tartu.

kersti-kaljulaid-i

Politically, Kaljulaid has defined herself as a liberal conservative – she has spoken in favour of conservative economic policies, but at the same time has liberal views on many social matters, such as LGBT rights and immigration.

When she was proposed as the candidate, some in the Estonian media highlighted the fact that she was not as well-known as the previous candidates. Kaljulaid understands this well and has promised to “talk to people” across Estonia. In the short span of time, she gave numerous interviews where she emphasised the need to pay more attention to domestic policies than her predecessor.

“I want to listen to the people who live in different corners [of Estonia], and are disappointed in political parties and political and public affairs in general,” Kaljulaid said in a public letter last week.

Kaljulaid said that the role of the Estonian president was to “be present wherever things are getting complicated.” “The president will not be able to provide a solution to every issue in Estonia, but to be able to recognise, understand and communicate the problem is already a huge step toward a solution. This can be done and the president needs to do this, responsibly and impartially,” she said.

She also spoke in support of strong civil society – less state interference, more confident and active citizens. But she has placed high importance on helping those in need. “An ethical Estonia will help the vulnerable – the state budget should always support those who are weak, before it begins to spend on those who are strong,” Kaljulaid said.

Kersti Kaljulaid is married and has four children, two from her first, and two from her second marriage. She is also a grandmother.

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Cover: Kersti Kaljulaid (photo by Rene Riisalu/courtesy of Office of the President.) Read also: Toomas Hendrik Ilves – the president Estonia needed.

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About the author: Estonian World

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  • Baltic

    Estonia is a Baltic Country and not a Nordic Country. It’s in Northern Europe though.

    • Rukki

      Why not both?

    • rasputin10

      Who the heck are you? Estonians knows how to identify their own culture and geography, thank you. “Baltic” is a lazy geopolitical moniker invented during the Cold War because these three countries shared an invasion and occupation story. Nothing else unifies EE, LV, and LT. Not culture, not genetics, not language. Tallinn is further north than Stockholm and Copenhagen and genetically Estonians are a mix of other Nordics and bit of Russian. Culturally and economically Nordic.

      • liquidlicker

        It’s all in a way true, but officially Estonia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe.

  • Paul

    How democratic is the process of election? It seems a bit forced … She might be a good president, but I see a lack of democracy in the whole thing. Thank you for a further answer.

    • Dmitri

      “Estonia is a parliamentary republic in which the President is a ceremonial figurehead with no executive power.”

      That’s why we have indirect presidential election. It’s a democratic process, because the parliament is still elected thru democratic means directly by the people.

      Latest presidential election process is well described in this Wiki article:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estonian_presidential_election,_2016

      • Paul

        I understand this, but, there was only one candidate forced the hand of the Parliament following the failure from 24th of September and as far as I searched for information about her, there seems that she doesn`t really have the needed skills for a president. I apologize if I`m wrong but I don`t find any information about her political past and it doesn`t feel democractic to impose only one candidate, so the parliament has no real choice. Also, I saw there that it was proposed to her to candidate in the first round, but she declind because lack of political support. After 24th of september failure, everybody quit the election run and she came alone. I feel a bit confused because I do not see there a clear way for this judgement. Also I cannot understand why today there was only one candidate. Thank you for your answers.

        • liquidlicker

          It’s because all the candidates who participated in the previous election agreed not to run again, because in a way it would’ve been stupid, because the most likely outcome would have been the same. Same members voting against them as before, and so the process would have run into stalemate once again.

          Why there was no other candidates, i have no idea. She was was picked and recommended by the Chairman of the State with the consensus of board of governors. And basically every party agreed to support her, because she isn’t in any party herself. So in a way she isn’t “politicized” which was what the opposition parties also liked. Hence, i guess, no other candidate was offered. There were talks of Jüri Luik, but he didn’t participate in the election.

          Now whether she’s a good president or not, only time will tell. She deinitely has the right stamina and character to pull it off, purely judging by all the interviews. She really seems to be someone who could keep the balance in upcoming political vortexes.

        • Dmitri

          Being a single candidate, there is no guarantee that you will be elected. It just means less choice for the MPs. When casting a vote, each MP can choose to abstain, thus voting against. Candidate who received less than two thirds of 101 possible votes, is not chosen.

          The part about previous candidates stepping down almost simultaneously is a bit strange, I agree. It’s the first time something like that happens, if I remember correctly. Nonetheless each candidate had their own reasoning. I think most of them didn’t see the point, because there was no clear leader among them. Elections at that point were already taking too long (the longest elections to date). Next the council of elders of the parliament decided to find a common candidate. The proposal was positively received by the parliamentary parties.
          So it could seem a little bit forced, but the reasoning was to find at least one fresh candidate, that could potentially satisfy the majority of the MPs.

        • Paul

          Thank you for your answers.

    • Dicio Est

      The idea is that instead of letting the plebs decide who the face of the country should be, let the guys who were trusted to run the country by the people decide the face.

      Same idea behind a prime minister pick. The elected politicians decide themselves who the lead is as at least then some part (majority) are willing to be lead by such and such.

      Like a micro democracy inside a democracy.

      Besides that’s what the parliamentary republic means. Parliament has most of the power, they get to pick the cabinet (as in most countries) the PM and the president.

      The plebs pick the guys they like to run the country and they sort out the top guys as they are at that point more knowledgeable who should be running the spot.

      Avoids the “More juuuubs, make america great again!” kind of BS to run by popularity vote and say what the voters want to hear. For that we do have party votes where similar slogans are used as “among 5 richest counties! Pick us”. For parties this charade is kind of acceptable, for presidents and PMs I would feel a little…cheated.

  • Andreas Bimba

    Conservative economic policy concerns me. If this means corporations and the wealthy having disproportionate political influence then this is bad. The democratic world suffers badly from government austerity, fraudulent privatisations, excessively free trade and growing wealth disparity. Wealth concentrating with the top few percent is damaging to economies as it suppresses consumption demand, reduces wages, decreases opportunity and increases unemployment.

    Full employment through fiscal stimulus; a progressive taxation system with minimal tax evasion; direct investment in critical infrastructure; good industrial/commercial development policy for example the Japanese METI approach including moderate trade protection when needed; government sector ownership and adequate funding of most of the social support, health, education, utilities, infrastructure and public transport sectors; the urgent transition to clean energy, high levels of energy conservation and environmental sustainability; a job guarantee scheme as defined by the Modern Monetary Theory economists, are all superior policies compared to traditional conservative neoliberal, austerity and monetarist economic policies.

    • Easier said than done, even if ignoring your gross exaggerations. Socialist policies have demonstrably failed so it’s more about balance. The more powerful a government the more prone they are to bribery and corruption. Estonia only recently breaking free from a socialist regime are unlikely to rush back to such a form. Things like a guaranteed job is idealistic nonsense – unless you really want people forced into menial labour. Estonia will let wealth continue to build under its own steam and then begin the inexorable move towards the more regulated system of established western economies.

      It looks like Estonia made a great choice. Remember, the president is mostly ceremonial, not like the USA, so someone that doesn’t interfere with governing and is sympathetic to social issues is the right balance.

      • Andreas Bimba

        Thanks Hal for your comment and Toomas for your endorsement.

        I made no exaggerations and what I proposed is not really socialist but centralist as the pendulum has swung too far to the right in most of the developed world with the banking/finance sector gaining an excessive and steadily increasing share of GDP while ‘Main Street’ and the manufacturing sectors are forced into decline by excessively open markets to low labour cost and technologically capable Asian nations such as China, Korea and now India, and Mexico in the case of the U.S.

        Perhaps Estonia and the other Baltic States have not yet let the narrow self interest and crony capitalism of the banking/finance sector become dominant but I urge you all to be aware of the hazard. Being in the EU trade zone is also highly beneficial but joining the Eurozone was an error and the role of the ECB, European Commission and IMF in the Southern European austerity crisis has been incompetent and extremely counter productive with tens of millions remaining unemployed or underemployed unnecessarily.

        The less wealth stratified nations of Germany, Japan and the Scandinavian countries are good role models for economic management as the core economies are still capitalist but tempered by a well managed government sector, each has free or low cost higher education and a comprehensive social welfare system. No one is proposing a return to full state control or the old communist ways. The main English speaking countries made a serious error to so blindly follow the ideologies of neoliberalism and Monetarism for four decades now when realistically only the first decade produced some useful productivity enhancing reforms. The approaches of more ‘socialist’ leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is now what is needed to address the excesses of neoliberalism and Monetarism but not to return to an excessively insular and inefficient socialist economic model. Was Franklin D Roosevelt a socialist and bad for the United States? An example is universal health care where the U.S. Spends twice the percentage of GDP on healthcare compared to countries like Canada or Australia, private insurance companies take 30% of fees for administration, marketing and profit and yet the poorest still struggle to obtain affordable or adequate healthcare. Sometimes the government sector is the most appropriate for some services, education is another example.

        The concept that large governments make the problem of bribery and corruption worse, ignores that most bribery and corruption and misallocation of wealth occurs in the private or corporate sector. The obscene diversions of wealth into share market and real estate speculation are examples. The enormous fees for managing pension funds and retirement savings another example. Tax evasion has become chronic and monopoly market positions and crony capitalism where legislation is passed to suit one economic sector have also become prevalent in the developed world. The Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses inserted into the TPP, TTIP, TISA and CETA are examples of crony capitalism unwinding the power of governments to pass legislation to protect the environment and the interests of citizens. The worlds financial and corporate elite are at war with democracy and the economic slide of the United States and of much of the EU are examples of this. The answer is not the libertarianist philosophy of small government which will ultimately degenerate into world domination by a few corporations, but healthy democracy, a mixed economy, a free and relevant mass media, an informed and engaged electorate and an effective judicial system. ISDS clauses and similar must never be passed by the worlds parliaments.

        I urge as many as possible make themselves aware of the power of monetary sovereignty, which unfortunately the Baltic States gave away when they pegged their currencies to the Euro and later entered the Eurozone, as this is an essential part of fiscal stimulus and the Job Guarantee scheme as proposed by the Modern Monetary Theory economists. Google Bill Mitchell, L Randall Wray, Warren Mosler, Stephanie Kelton, Steve Keen and others.

        Here is a sample:

        http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=32070

        https://www.facebook.com/andreas.bimba/posts/657602731073607

        • Most partisans believe they are centrist. Guaranteed jobs and citing avowed Socialists like Sanders and Corbyn is not centrist. You can never guarantee jobs other than forcing people to work in jobs they won’t like. No one suggests the USA is a perfect model. In some ways, they are “behind”, particularly in terms of social services like health care. As you see already, they are moving to address that. It all takes time in a democracy, and a really long time in large countries, and it should always move at the pace the people want. Forced or rushed changed invariably is a poor outcome. A country like Estonia that is still feeling its feet, certainly does not need a swift move to a state-controlled socialist style of government. That’s why the choice of president is wise. Estonians are still free to define their own future and, as far as I can tell, they are doing a superb job already. It’s a beautiful, well advanced country. The last thing they need is a meddling president. Remember, we are talking about this choice of president, not the virtues of various political doctrine. 😉

          • Andreas Bimba

            The Job Guarantee scheme is only for those that cannot find work in the private or government sector after the economy has been stimulated by the correct amount of national government deficit spending. Is Estonia’s unemployment zero? Is Estonia’s per capita GDP as high as that in Germany or Sweden? If not then improvements are possible but having a sovereign currency would greatly assist.

            Unemployment is not only appalling for the individual and their dependants but also means the economy is operating below its capacity and therefore consumption demand for the goods and services of businesses is at less than optimum levels. Unemployment is bad for all in the nation and is a sign of a badly managed economy.

            Ideally the money supply should grow at the productive growth capacity of the economy and unemployment levels are a good indicator of this level.

            A Job Guarantee system sets a minimum wage floor and that wage should be sufficient for a basic but acceptable standard of living. Appropriate training and education and where necessary social support would be provided so the transition to higher paid work in the wider economy would be smoother.

            Some industries that rely on very low wage workers or provide poor working conditions may decline or disappear but as development of a high value economy are concurrent goals this should not matter.

            I realise I have gone beyond the scope of discussing the new Estonian President but the points I make are fairly universal to all nations.

            http://e1.newcastle.edu.au/coffee/job_guarantee/JobGuarantee.cfm

  • Toomas

    Totally agree with Andreas B.. that sums it up …

  • ConnieHinesDorothyProvine

    How long before Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, etc, start making misogynistic comments about her?

  • Badruddeen KKBK

    interesting and congratulations.

  • Aare Tamm

    Did someone vote for he?