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article imageEstonian presidential vote delayed again, until October

By AFP     Sep 24, 2016 in Politics

Estonia's electoral college failed on Saturday to choose a successor to two-term liberal President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, returning the vote to the stalemated parliament where it flopped in August and could fail again.

The head of state plays a largely ceremonial role in the tech-savvy Baltic NATO and eurozone country of 1.3 million people and is elected by parliament or electoral college rather than direct public vote.

Neither of the two candidates in Saturday's ballot scored the simple majority in the 335-member electoral college needed to win.

It is the first time the body failed to elect the head of state.

Backed by the governing Reform party, former EU commissioner and prime minister Siim Kallas scored 138 votes, while rival Allar Joks, a former ombudsman supported by the rightwing IRL and Free party took 134.

Fifty-seven empty and three spoilt ballots meant that both fell short of the minimum 165 votes needed to win.

Both female candidates, the former foreign minister Marina Kaljurand and Mailis Reps of the opposition Centre party, were narrowly defeated in the first round.

Parliament must now vote again within 14 days and new candidates can run.

Kallas ruled out running a third time, fuming on Saturday that "this vote is a failure of the electoral system."

Allar Joks also bowed out on Saturday, telling AFP: "I'm not going to pursue the presidency any longer."

Tonis Saarts, a political scientist at Tallinn University, warned the vote could fail again in the stalemated parliament.

A winning candidate needs to secure a two-thirds majority in the 101-seat house, but with votes split among six parties this proved impossible in August.

"I can't rule out that the vote will go back to the electoral college again and we'll be dealing with it until end of October," Saarts told AFP on Saturday.

Estonia's head of state gives legislation its final seal of approval after checking its constitutionality.

Presidents can remain in office for up to two consecutive five-year terms at a time.

As Estonia prepares to take over the EU's rotating six-month presidency next July, analysts also expect the future president to develop a higher international profile.

Known for his sharp tongue and fondness of bow-ties and tweeting, Ilves gave the role a strong international dimension due to his flair for foreign affairs.

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