List of presidents of Estonia

President of the Republic of Estonia
Eesti Vabariigi President
The Flag of the President
Kadriorg Palace
Appointer Riigikogu
Rounds I-III
Electoral Body
Round IV and further
Term length Five years
renewable once, consecutively
Inaugural holder Konstantin Päts
24 April 1938
Formation Constitution of Estonia
Salary 72,723 [1]
Website President

The President of the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti Vabariigi President) is the head of state of the Republic of Estonia.

Estonia is a parliamentary republic, therefore the President is mainly a symbolic figurehead and holds no executive power. The President is obliged to suspend his (or her) membership in any political party for the 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 help the President to function in a more independent and impartial manner.

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 the Riigikogu after three rounds of balloting. The electoral body, which consists of all members of the Riigikogu and elected representatives of all local self-governments (at least one representative per each municipality, but not more than 10 representatives depending on the number of citizens with voting rights residing in the municipality), 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 and re-elected on 29 August 2011.


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 led 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 was cut short as Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union 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 Ufa in Russia.

According to the 1938 constitution, should the position of the President of the republic become vacant or otherwise incapacitated, the president's 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 21. Uluots appointed Otto Tief as Prime Minister. Tief was subsequently arrested by the re-occupying Soviet forces in September.

In September 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. During the drafting of the new constitution, it was planned to use the older, more traditional title, State Elder, for the head of state. However, the more modern term president was eventually chosen after public consultations. Five presidential elections have taken place (in 1992, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011). In the first four elections parliament failed to choose the President and the election passed to the electoral assembly. Lennart Meri was elected in 1992 (this election, unlike later ones, had a public round) 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 and he was reelected by the parliament in 2011. The next presidential election will be held in 2016.

Constitutional role

The President of the Republic of Estonia:

  • acts as the highest representative of state in international affairs (this task includes signing international treaties preliminarily approved by the Government). In exceptional circumstances the President may represent Estonia in the European Council instead of the Prime Minister of Estonia;
  • appoints and recalls, upon proposal of the Government, the diplomatic representatives of the Republic of Estonia to foreign states and international organizations; receives the credentials of foreign 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 declared by the President at four occasions: if the Riigikogu turns out to be unable to pass the annual State Budget Act, if the Riigikogu fails to obtain the nation's approval on a referendum, if the Riigikogu fails to elect the Prime Minister after it receives the opportunity (at those three occasions announcing extraordinary elections is obligatory and the President simply acts as the "highest notary" of the state) or if the Riigikogu passes a censure motion against the Government, and the Government, in its turn, requests the President to consider announcing extraordinary elections (in this case the President may, however, say "no", if he (or she) founds organizing extraordinary elections unnecessary or unreasonable for whatever reason);
  • convenes the new membership of the Riigikogu and opens its first session;
  • proposes to the Chairman of the Riigikogu to convene an extraordinary session of the Riigikogu (in case of necessity);
  • promulgates laws and signs the instruments of ratification. The President may refuse to promulgate a bill into law within 14 days after its receipt (it is mostly done only if the President finds it contrary to the Constitution of Estonia). In this case the President returns the bill to the Riigikogu with a motivation of his (or her) decision. When that happens, the Riigikogu may reconsider and amend the bill according to remarks of the President, drop the matter, or pass the bill without any 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 is obliged to promulgate it or, if he or she still believes it to be unconstitutional, to 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.
  • 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 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. The respective amendment was finally approved by Riigikogu on 13 April 2011 and entered into force on 22 July 2011 ;
  • 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 or the largest party in Riigikogu), who has to go through an approval vote in the parliament. If the candidate, nominated by the President, fails to obtain the parliamentary approval or finds himself to be incapable of forming the Government, the President may nominate another candidate. If the second candidate also fails to obtain the approval of the Parliament or if the President refuses to nominate the second 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 to 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 and the Chancellor of Justice. 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 secure the support of Riigikogu, for all of those officers must pass through an approval vote in the parliament before they can assume their office;
  • upon proposal of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, appoints to office the President of the Bank of Estonia. The President may refuse to accept the proposal and demand for another candidate (theoretically for an unlimited number of times). This option was previously exercised by President Lennart Meri.
  • upon proposal of the Supreme Court, appoints judges (judges appointed by the President may be taken to legal responsibility only with the President's consent);
  • 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 and orders mobilization;
  • acts as the head of the State Defense Council, which is an advising body consisting of the President, the Prime Minister, the speaker of Riigikogu, the chairman of the Riigikogu commissions for state defense and foreign affairs, minister of foreign affairs, minister of defense, finance minister, minister of internal affairs, minister of justice and commander of defense forces of Estonia;
  • by way of clemency, releases or grants commutation to convicted offenders at their request;

Presidents of Estonia

# Portrait Name Took Office Left Office Party Birth and Death
1 Konstantin Päts 24 April 1938 23 July 1940 Fatherland Union b. 23 February 1874, Tahkuranna
d. 18 January 1956, Burashevo, Kalinin Oblast, USSR
1938 - I round - elected by the parliament and municipal appointees as the only candidate with 219 of 238 votes (92.0%).
rowspan="2" style="background:;"| 2 Lennart Georg Meri 6 October 1992 8 October 2001 National Coalition Party Pro Patria b. 29 March 1929, Tallinn
d. 14 March 2006, Tallinn
1992 - II round - elected by the parliament with 59 of 101 votes (58.4%).
1996 - V round - elected by the parliament and municipal appointees with 196 of 372 votes (52.7%).
3 Arnold Rüütel 8 October 2001 9 October 2006 People's Union of Estonia b. 10 May 1928, Laimjala Parish, Saare County
2001 - V round - elected by the parliament and municipal appointees with 186 of 366 votes (50.8%).
4 Toomas Hendrik Ilves 9 October 2006 Incumbent Social Democratic Party b. 26 December 1953, Stockholm, Sweden
2006 - IV round - elected by the parliament and municipal appointees with 174 of 345 votes (50.4%).
2011 - I round - elected by the parliament with 73 of 101 votes (72.3%).

See also


External links

  • President of Estonia - official website
  • Website of former President Lennart Meri
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