Estonia's parliament elects country's first female president

Newly-elected Estonia's President Kersti Kaljulaid during a news conference after the vote in the country's Parliament in Tallinn.
Newly-elected Estonia's President Kersti Kaljulaid during a news conference after the vote in the country's Parliament in Tallinn.PHOTO: REUTERS

TALLINN (AFP) - Estonia's parliament on Monday (Oct 3) elected surprise candidate Kersti Kaljulaid as the first woman president of the tech-savvy Baltic state, breaking a month-long political stalemate.

The non-aligned 46-year-old member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for keeping watch over EU finances, won the support of 81 of Estonia's 101 members of parliament.

A mother of four and a grandmother, Kaljulaid will take over as Nato nation's fifth president since independence in 1991 as Tallinn gears up for the EU's rotating six-month presidency next July.

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

Women's right are already highly developed in Estonia, but Kaljulaid's election is still seen as an important first.

Her background as an auditor is likely to go down well in the fiscally conservative nation.

With its debt-to-GDP ratio hovering around 10 percent, Tallinn has long insisted other eurozone members ought to adopt its strict fiscal discipline.

Kaljulaid was nominated last week as a dark horse candidate after favourites, including former foreign minister Marina Kaljurand and former prime minister and European commissioner Siim Kallas, failed to win in two previous rounds of voting in August and September.

Although Kaljulaid has had a successful international career over the last 12 years as an EU auditor, she is not a household name in Estonia.

"Kaljuoulaid is rather unknown by the Estonian public and she will need to present her views to the people," Tonis Saarts, a political scientist at Tallinn University, told AFP.

"Therefore the first period of her presidency will most likely focus more on domestic affairs rather than international relations, making her a very different head of state than the predecessor Toomas Hendrik Ilves." 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.

A trained biologist specialising in genetics, Kaljulaid also also holds an MBA from University of Tartu.

In the late nineties she worked as investment banker at Hansapank that was later taken over by Swedbank.

In 1999, Kaljulaid joined the office of then Estonian prime minister Mart Laar as an economic policy adviser.

In early 2000s she managed the Iru power plant near Tallinn.

She also co-hosted a weekly radio programme on political and economic affairs for the popular Kuku Radio station and has said she views education and health as key areas of concern.

Kaljulaid has also described herself as economically conservative with a strong liberal streak on social issues.

Her daughter and son from her first marriage are already grown-ups, while her two younger sons are 11 and 6-years-old.

Husband Georgi-Rene Maksimovski, a publicity-shy communication engineer, gave up his public service career to support her work at the European Court of Auditors.

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.