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President of the Republic of Estonia

14. March 2023

On 6 October 1992 President Lennart Meri, the first head of state after the restoration of Estonia’s independence, took office. 

On 20 August 1992 Lennart Meri, Arnold Rüütel, Lagle Parek and Rein Taagepera were registered as candidates for President of the Republic by the National Electoral Committee.  

However, none of the presidential candidates received the required number of votes in the 20 September referendum and therefore none were elected. The votes were divided as follows: Arnold Rüütel 195,743 (41.8%), Lennart Meri 138,317 (29.5%), Rein Taagepera 109,631 (23.4%) and Lagle Parek 19,837 (4.2%) votes.   

Arnold Rüütel and Lennart Meri stood as candidates in the Riigikogu elections on 5 October. With 59 votes in his favour, Lennart Meri was elected President of the Republic. 

Eerik-Juhan Truuväli, Chairman of the Estonian National Electoral Committee:
‘Mr President of the Riigikogu, honourable members of the Riigikogu, ladies and gentlemen. Election of the President of the Republic in the Riigikogu on 5 October 1992. Minutes on the results of the election of the President of the Republic of Estonia in the Riigikogu. In counting the votes, the Electoral Committee determined the following results: the number of members of the Riigikogu entered on the electoral roll is 101, the number of members of the Riigikogu who received a ballot paper is 101, the number of members of the Riigikogu who took part in the voting is 101. The number of ballot papers declared invalid is 11, the number of votes cast for the presidential candidates is 90. The number of votes cast in favour of presidential candidate Arnold Rüütel is 31. The number of votes cast in favour of presidential candidate Lennart Meri is 59.’

7th Riigikogu, I session, 5 Oct 1992

Lennart Meri (1992–2001)

President Lennart Meri at a ceremonial concert at the Estonia Theatre on the 76th anniversary of the
Republic of Estonia. Photo: T. Volmer
National Archives
President Lennart Meri in Kadriorg Palace, celebrating the final departure
of Soviet army units
from Estonia, August 1994. Photo: T. Volmer
National Archives

Arnold Rüütel (2001–2006)

The inauguration ceremony of the President of the Republic, 8 October.
Photo archive of the Riigikogu.
President Arnold Rüütel.
Office of the President.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2006–2016)

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves taking the oath of office, 9 October.
Photo archive of the Riigikogu.
The President of the Republic on Independence Day at the Estonia Theatre on 24 February 2011.
Office of the President.

Kersti Kaljulaid (2016–2021)

President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid.
President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid assuming office, 10 October. Photo: E. Peinar
Photo archive of the Riigikogu.

Alar Karis (2021–)  

The inauguration ceremony of the President of the Republic, 11 October.
Office of the President.
A virtual summit.
Office of the President.

However, the list of Estonian heads of state is longer than the names mentioned the above. The Provisional Government of Estonia, which took office on 24 February 1918, was led by Prime Minister Konstantin Päts. Between 1919 and 1920 the head of state was the prime minister of the Republic of Estonia, a position filled by Otto Strandman, Jaan Tõnisson, Ado Birk and Ants Piip. Between 1921 and 1934 the head of state was known as the elder of state. This title was held by Ants Piip, Konstantin Päts (repeatedly), Juhan Kukk, Friedrich Akel, Jüri Jaakson, Jaan Teemant (repeatedly), Jaan Tõnisson (repeatedly), August Rei, Otto Strandman and Kaarel Eenpalu (known as Karl August Einbund until 1935). From January 1934 until September 1937, Konstantin Päts was prime minister in the role of the head of state, and protector of state until April 1938. On 28 July 1937 the National Assembly adopted a new constitution, which established a presidential institution that held significant powers. Konstantin Päts became the first president, holding the position until the Soviet occupation of Estonia in June 1940. 

In exile, the head of state of Estonia was referred to as prime minister in the duties of the president, and the role was filled by Jüri Uluots, August Rei, Aleksander Warma (Varma), Tõnis Kint and Heinrich Mark

The current presidential institution was established by the constitution that entered into force in 1992. Members of the Constitutional Assembly, formed on 13 September 1991, had to decide, among other things, the name of the head of state. Both ‘president’ and ‘elder of state’ were proposed in the debates, with many members of the assembly preferring the latter. However, the final vote resulted in ‘president’ being chosen as the name for the head of state of the Republic of Estonia. 

Sulev Vahtre:
‘I strongly prefer ‘elder of state’, although I know that nothing tragic will happen if ‘president’ is chosen. [—] Of course, it is quite important that the name is in harmony with the names of other state institutions and officials, such as the Riigikogu; there will probably be the Supreme Court, the Auditor General, the State Chancellery.’  

Jüri Adams:
‘[—] without a doubt, ‘president’ requires a modifier, ie the president of what. One of the important differences between foreign words and words that are of one’s mother tongue, is their comprehensibility for children and adolescents who are still learning words. In that sense, ‘elder of state’ is more understandable and ‘president’ is certainly less so. It carries the meaning of something that can be changed arbitrarily.’  

Liia Hänni:
‘Without a doubt, the people favour ‘president’. I say ‘president’ because there are many letters that have been written criticising the use of the title ‘elder of state’. The letters argue that it is an attempt to be original, that using such a title for the head of state of the Republic of Estonia would impede our external communication, demean our head of state, and that we should absolutely return to the title of ‘president’ as it was in the 1937 constitution of the Republic of Estonia.’  

Tõnu Anton, Chairman of the Assembly:    
‘We have decided to put it to vote. So, the question is: who is in favour of replacing the term ‘elder of state’ with ‘president’ in our draft? Votes in favour and against both count. Let us vote. 16 in favour, 14 against and 4 impartial. The Assembly has decided to amend the draft and replace the term ‘elder of state’ with ‘president’.’ 

Shorthand records of the Constitutional Assembly

A selection of books written by and about the presidents of the re-independent Republic of Estonia

The National Library compiles a bibliography of the President of the Republic, which includes speeches, articles and interviews of the President of the Republic, as well as writings on the activities of the president and the Office of the President from both Estonian and foreign publications. The database includes writings by Arnold Rüütel, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Kersti Kaljulaid and Alar Karis and writings on their activities.
As of September 2022 the database has more than 27,000 entries of books and articles, written in 24 languages and from 52 countries. In addition to Estonian, English and Russian, there are literary works in languages such as Slovenian, Bulgarian and Portuguese. Of the various countries, the furthest away are Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The bibliography of Lennart Meri is available in the digital archive Digar.

The bibliography of Konstantin Päts has been published as a book, in collaboration between the Konstantin Päts Museum and the National Library, and is also available in Digar. 
Konstantin Päts : bibliograafia / comp: Sirje Madison (years 1897–2011) … [et al… Tallinn : Konstantin Päts Museum National Library of Estonia, 2019.