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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Favorite in Estonian Election

TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia's four major political parties have their candidates lined up for this summer's presidential election, but with no clear favorite the vote is unlikely to be settled in parliament, giving way for a drawn-out fight in the electoral college.

Commentators say no party has staked a strong enough claim to secure the two-thirds majority needed in the 101-seat parliament, which meets Aug. 27 to choose the president. Estonia's ruling coalition of Pro Patria, Moderates and Reform has 53 lawmakers in parliament.

If the house is deadlocked the vote will go on Sept. 21 to the Valijameeste Kogu, an electoral college of parliamentarians and local government representatives.

"To elect the president in parliament [the parties] need to have serious agreements in place. They are not there, and elections will probably go to Valijameeste Kogu," said Argo Ideon, a journalist with the Postimees daily.

"It is impossible to predict the winner at this point, but I'm sure it will be one of those four already named [by the major four parties]," he added.

The Moderates in late May became the last of the four to announce a candidate, saying their recent congress had chosen former Prime Minister Andres Tarand to stand.

He joins a field of candidates including Reform's choice, the academic Peeter Tulviste, Pro Patria's candidate, Parliament Speaker Toomas Savi, and from the opposition Centrists, Deputy-speaker Peeter Kreitzberg.

The campaign trail is not without controversy. Earlier this year Savi admitted giving athletes drugs that have since been banned when he competed as a Soviet and Estonian javelin thrower in the 1960s. Tarand was fined in 1998 for drink-driving.

The one certainty is that only four candidates can square off when voting begins, because each needs the backing of 21 of the 101 lawmakers to stand.

Bargains will have to be struck and promises made before any of the seven parties in the chamber drop their candidate and support another contender.

Elections in March 1999 gave the Moderates 17 seats while ruling coalition allies Reform and Pro Patria both have 18.

The Centrists command 28 seats but doubts have been raised about whether they will hold together in a vote after divisions in the party arose when Kreitzberg was chosen over rival Siiri Oviir to stand.

None have the 68 votes needed to win the presidency, and the emergence of an outsider to take the post is seen as unlikely. Before possible defections, that leaves just 20 swing votes of the 11 Rahvaliit lawmakers and other, mostly Russian, deputies.

Some analysts believe the situation is a recipe for gridlock.

"The government parties would be able to get a couple of votes from nonparty and opposition lawmakers, but 55 votes is still far from the 68 necessary," said Rein Toomla, a political analyst at Tartu University.

Incumbent President Lennart Meri, with his Western-oriented views and occasional eccentricity — he once gave a news conference in Tallinn airport's toilets on Estonia's image abroad — is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

As Estonia's only president since Soviet occupation ended in 1991, 72 year-old Meri — a well-travelled writer, film maker and former foreign minister with command of six languages — is widely seen as raising the standard of the presidency.

Whoever follows him will be expected to push ahead with Estonia's foreign policy goals of European Union and NATO membership.