Imagine it's 2011. Mart Laar has gone from being the opinionated, stubborn roly poly 32 year old of 1992 to being the opinionated, stubborn, rotund 51 year old of 2011. Kristina Smigun has decided that the 2010 Olympics were her last, and has settled down to raise a family and coach skiing in Otepää. And Arnold Rüütel is still president, an 83-year-old president.
In fact Arnold Rüütel has been president so long, few people remember a time when he wasn't in office. There are whispers of a once chain-smoking intellectual president named Veri or Mari, but no one can quite remember much about him. Instead they know their president as Arnold, a man of few words and a hair line that just won't recede.
Arnold was never really elected by the Estonian people. He wasn't even elected in parliament. Instead, his backers massaged the system so that he could be elected by a favorable mysterious electoral college that had to answer to nobody about their vote.
But president he has stayed, deep into his December years.
The heyday of Rüütel's presidency has come and gone. Gone are the days of NATO membership and EU membership. Replaced are days of uncertainty as the post-Putin government of Russia has collapsed among infighting and warring factions, and even in Estonia support for Jüri Ratas' Center Party is weak following charges of electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. (Edgar Savisaar choked on a verivorst at a Christmas Party in 2009 and Villu Reiljan stepped on an unexploded mine while hiking on Naissaar in 2010).
Enter into this the government of Vladimir Zhiranovsky who has emerged as the new dictator of Russia and has assembled an army of Putin youth groups to take back what they see as Russia proper - including Estonia and Alaska. Who is there to face this crisis. Who will see Estonia through it's new twilight years? Will it be up to Estonia's octogenerian president or its 33-year party leader to combat this great challenge?
Sure, it's just a funny script for a future that hopefully won't happen. And I mean no disrespect to Edgar and Villu, but I had to write them out of the story somehow. However, real challenges do occur and in those situations it is importnat that a country have competent leadership. The US has proved so far that it can have the most incompetent leadership and still skate by. But the stakes for a small country like Estonia are higher.
When I read today that KESK and ERL indeed intend to not honor Estonia's constitution and instead will do a fake run through of the parliamentary vote to reinstall Rüütel this month, I had to wonder if they are so busy thinking about themselves, their friends, and this month, that they forgot about the big picture. Rüütel is a well-respected man, but he wouldn't even campaign because he knew he'd lose in the parliamentary round.
When running a country it is wisest to counsel the will of the people for they know what they want and they'll accept their own mistakes. But sidestepping them? That's not good for anybody.