Rüütel is known as a defender of Estonian sovereignty and one of the authors of the sovereignty declaration in 1988 that precipitated the disintegration of the USSR. His supporters point to his conciliatory, diplomatic character and his willingness to negotiate.
Estonian presidential elections have been characterized as more a vote of no-confidence for a current government than an endorsement of a new one. Great political changes from a new president are unlikely to be realized, for the largely ceremonial post does not provide for much direct action. But some expects argue that Rüütel is capable of fostering new modes of political discourse that will lead to change. It is widely held that he can give voice to elements of Estonian society—the people of the countryside and the urban poor— who before had little political impact. Foreign investment, commercial banking, and modernized communication do little to address Estonia's rapidly rising HIV problem or its soaring unemployment outside of the cities. Rüütel offers hope to Estonia's underprivileged classes.