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The President of the Republic ( ) is the head of state of the Republic of Estoniamarker.

Estonia is a parliamentary republic, therefore President is mainly a symbolic figure and holds no executive power. The President has to suspend his membership in any political party for his term in office. Upon assuming office, the authority and duties of the President in all other elected or appointed offices terminate automatically. These measures should theoretically ensure that the President is independent and impartial in executing his authority.

The President is elected by the Riigikogu or a special electoral body for a five-year term. The electoral body is convened in case no candidate secures a two-third-majority in Riigikogu after three rounds of balloting. The electoral body (which consists of Parliament deputies and elected representatives of all local governments) elects the president, choosing between the two candidates with the largest percentage of votes.

The President can not be elected for more than two consecutive terms.

The current President is Toomas Hendrik Ilves elected by an electoral body on 23 September 2006.


Estonia didn't have a president from 1918 to 1938. This institution was intentionally left out of the first Estonian constitution, for its authors tried to avoid the concentration of power in one person's hands by all means possible. This eventually lead to a creation of an ultra-parliamentary system. The power of the Parliament was practically unlimited and the Government was totally controlled by the Parliament. The functions that are usually vested on a president in parliamentary systems were divided among the speaker of Riigikogu, the State Elder and the Government. Until 1934, the nominal head of state was the State Elder. (riigivanem), who was also head of the government. However, he could not play a balancing role, should there be any conflict between the Parliament and the Government. The State Elder was completely dependent on the Parliament and could be sacked by it at any time. Estonia's constitution was amended in 1933, transforming the country from a parliamentary to a presidential state. The head of state, according to the new constitution, was also called the State Elder. However, this provision never came into effect as a result of Konstantin Päts's coup d'état in 1934. According to the third Constitution of Estonia, the role of the head of state and also a strong executive power was vested upon the President of the Republic. Konstantin Päts became the first person to bear this title. His term was to last for six years, but ended short as Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Unionmarker in 1940, Päts was dismissed and later arrested.

Within days after the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, the President was pressured into affirming the Andrei Zhdanov appointed puppet government of Johannes Vares, following the arrival of demonstrators accompanied by Red Army troops with armored vehicles to the Presidential palace. Following the sham elections in July, Päts was dismissed from office and Vares assumes presidential responsibilities. Later in July Päts, along with his son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons, was deported to Ufamarker in Russia.

According to the 1938 constitution, should the position of the President of the republic become vacant or otherwise incapacitated, the president duties are assumed by the Prime Minister. However, during times of war or incapacitation lasting longer than six months, the constitution provides for the election of an acting President by the Electoral Council. The Electoral Council met in secret on April 20, 1944, and determined that the appointment of Vares as Prime Minister in 1940 was unlawful according to the 1938 constitution. The Council elected Jüri Uluots as acting President of Estonia on April 21st. Uluots appointed Otto Tief as Prime Minister. Tief was subsequently arrested by the re-occupying Soviet forces in September.

In September of 1944, Uluots and the surviving members of the Tief government escaped to Sweden. The day before Uluots died in January, 1945, a successor August Rei was named to assume the position of acting President. Following Rei's death in 1963, the role passed to Aleksander Warma, then to Tõnis Kint in 1971, then to Heinrich Mark in 1990. Then in 1992 the last acting President of Estonia, Heinrich Mark, handed over his credentials to the newly elected President of the restored republic, Lennart Meri.

After Estonia regained independence, a parliamentary constitution based upon the 1938 law was adopted again. Four elections have taken place (in 1992, 1996, 2001 and 2006), in all of which the parliament failed to choose the President and the election passed to the electoral assembly. Lennart Meri was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996, defeating Arnold Rüütel both times. Rüütel himself became the next President in 2001. In 2006, Toomas Hendrik Ilves won the election.

Duties of the President according to Estonian Constitution

The President of the Republic of Estonia:

  • acts as the highest representative of the Republic in international affairs (this task includes signing the international treaties);

  • on the proposal of the Government appoints and recalls the diplomatic representatives of the Republic of Estonia to foreign states and international organizations; receives the credentials of the diplomatic agents accredited to Estonia;

  • declares regular elections of the Riigikogu (the Parliament of Estonia) and, pursuant to respective provisions of the Constitution, its extraordinary elections. Extraordinary elections can be announced by the President at four occasions: if the Parliament turns to be unable to pass the State Budget Act; if the Parliament fails to obtain the nation's approval on a referendum; if the Parliament fails to elect the Prime-Minister after it receives the opportunity (at those occasions announcing extraordinary elections is obligatory and the President simply acts as the "highest notary" of the state); or if the Parliament passes a censure motion against the Government, and the Government, in its turn, asks the President to consider announcing extraordinary elections (in this case the President may, however, say "no", if he founds organizing extraordinary elections unnecessary or unreasonable);

  • convenes the new membership of the Riigikogu and open its first session;

  • if needed, proposes to the Chairman of the Riigikogu to convene an extraordinary session of the Riigikogu;

  • promulgates laws and signs the instruments of ratification. The President may refuse to sign a bill into law within 14 days after its receipt if he finds it contrary to the Constitution of Estonia or unacceptable for some political reasons. In this case the President returns the bill to Riigikogu with a motivation of his decision. When that happens, Riigikogu may reconsider and make changes to the bill before passing it again, drop the matter, or pass the bill without changes for a second time. When Riigikogu takes the third option, the president may not simply refuse to sign the bill into law anymore but if he still believes it to be unconstitutional, he can ask Riigikohus (the Supreme Court) to rule on its constitutionality. If Riigikohus finds no violation of constitution, the President must sign the bill into law.

On the other hand, it is not completely clear, in what period of time the President has to make his decision if the parliament passes the bill for a second time with no changes or when the Supreme Court rules on the bills constitutionality. The Constitution of Estonia is ambiguous at this part. However, the President has never took advantage of this omission yet for blocking the legislative process. One of the possible reasons is that such move could purely theoretically be considered as an inability to carry out his constitutional duties, which, in its turn, may theoretically lead to a forced removal from office, should the Supreme Court support such a decision. However, it is very difficult to predict what would in fact happen should this extremely unlikely situation be the case.

  • may initiate amendment of the Constitution. Until now this right has been used at two occasions only. President Lennart Meri proposed to introduce direct elections of the President and to found a Constitutional Court on the last day of his stay in office. This proposal did not find support within the walls of the Parliament. The Republic's current President Toomas-Hendrik Ilves recently proposed to remove mentioning the institution of the Commander and the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Forces from the Constitution, so that he or she could be appointed by the Government, and not by Riigikogu. This proposal has already gained support of the incumbent composition of Riigikogu and has all chances of coming into force (for that to happen, the next composition of Riigikogu has to grant this amendment the final approval);

  • after appropriate consultations with the parliamentary fractions nominates the candidate for the post of the Prime Minister (who is normally the leader of the parliamentary coalition), who has to go through an approval vote in Riigikogu. If the candidate for the post of the Prime-Minister,nominated by the President, fails to receive the parliamentary approval or finds himself to be incapable of forming the Government, the President may nominate another candidate. If this candidate fails to receive the approval of the Parliament as well or if the President refuses to nominate another candidate, the right to nominate the Prime-Minister is transferred to Riigikogu;

  • on the proposal of the Prime-Minister formally appoints to office and dismisses members of the Government, whereas the Prime-Minister's proposal is binding for the President. The President may not refuse to appoint or dismiss a minister, should the Prime-Minister make a respective proposal. So the President's role is virtually limited with a formal signing of the respective documents;

  • nominates the Chairman of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, the Auditor General, the Legal Chancellor, and the Commander or the Commander-in-Chief (at time of war) of the Defense Forces. The President may, theoretically, nominate any candidate at his or her discretion. However, the traditions of a parliamentary republic suppose that the President organizes respective consultations with the parliamentary fractions and proposes only such a candidate that will be able to gain the support of Riigikogu, for all of those officers must pass through an approval vote in the Parliament before they can take their office;

  • on the proposal of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, appoints to office the President of the Bank of Estonia. The President may , however, refuse to accept the proposal and demand for another candidate to be proposed (theoretically for an unlimited number of times). This option was exercised by President Lennart Meri, which was a significant scandal at the time.

  • on the proposal of the Supreme Court, appoints judges (it's also important to mention that judges appointed by the President may be taken to legal responsibility only with the President's consent);

  • on the proposal of the Government of the Republic and the Commander of the Defense Forces, appoints to and releases from office the leadership of the Defense Forces. In this case the President also has a right to overthrow a proposal (see 11);

  • confers state decorations, military and diplomatic ranks;

  • is the Supreme Commander of the National Defense Forces of Estonia (in reality, this function is usually considered largely ceremonial and symbolic);

  • makes proposals to the Riigikogu to declare martial law, to order mobilization and demobilization and to declare a state of emergency;

  • declares martial law in case of attack on Estonia, orders mobilization, and appoints the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Forces (in this case the President does not have to wait for the Parliament's decision and appoints the Commander-in-Chief at his own discretion);

  • by way of clemency, releases or grants commutation to convicted offenders at their request;

  • initiates the bringing of criminal charges against the Legal Chancellor.

Presidents of Estonia

1938 to 1940

Name Start of term End of term Party
1 Konstantin Päts 24 April 1938 23 July 1940 Isamaaliit

1992 to present

Name Start of term End of term Party (before elected)
2 Lennart Meri 6 October 1992 8 October 2001 Pro Patria
3 Arnold Rüütel 8 October 2001 9 October 2006 People's Union of Estonia
4 Toomas Hendrik Ilves 9 October 2006 10 October 2011 Social Democratic Party

See also

External links

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