Riigikogu speaker: Mass immigration major topic in October local elections

Henn Põlluaas.
Henn Põlluaas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Mass immigration will be one of the main topics at this autumn's local elections, Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) says, adding that the phenomenon must be curbed.

The Estonian nation should on the other hand have a say in who and what sort of person the next president would be, he went on. Põlluaas is himself the only political candidate to have been declared for the presidential elections, which also take place in autumn, and says he would be a president for all the Estonian nation.

Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday evening, Põlluaas, who was Riigikogu speaker until March this year, said that: "Migration has once again taken a very frightening turn, with many more Estonians leaving than they are coming back, while the number of foreigners arriving in the country exceeds this manifold."

These foreigners: "Slash wages and take jobs away from our people. We have 54,000 of our own people unemployed," Põlluaas went on.

Põlluaas said that he longed for a societal debate on what a president of Estonia should be, what values they hold – Estonian presidents are not directly elected by the people, but instead chosen via a succession of ballots at the Riigikogu, followed by, should these draw a blank, voting in the regional electoral colleges.

He added that, were he to get the nod, he would be a president for the whole nation of Estonians, including LGBT+ people.

"The question is this, that the president should be one for the entire nation … as is required by both the office, and the constitution. If you are ready to run, you cannot choose parties, you have to be cross-party, and I am ready for that."

Põlluaas' party has in the past been critical of social affairs ministry support for LGBT+ groups.

Immigration key topic in October elections

Mass immigration will be one of the hot topics in this autumn's local elections, he added, noting that while 35,000 migrant workers will travel to Estonia for work, 4,000-5,000 foreign citizens come to live in Estonia every year, a figure which is growing year-on-year, he said.

Foreign citizens with residency permission in Estonia are eligible to vote in the local elections on October 17 – polling day is preceded by a period of advance voting also.

Of hopes for getting the post and in response to presenter Andres Kuusk's assumption that both he and his guest new in reality Põlluaas would not get to be president, the latter answered: "I am not so sure."

"If other parties are afraid to put up their own candidates, there may be all sorts of surprises," he went on.

While political parties put up their own presidential candidates, since a minimum of 67 votes at the 101-seat Riigikogu are required, in practice parties must come to an agreement on a unifying candidate, if the process is to be decided at the Riigikogu.

Media speculation was rife that former Prime Minister and current speaker Jüri Ratas (Center) would run, but these have been put to bed after Ratas stated last week that he would not be a candidate.

Põlluaas: Strange no other presidential candidates put forward yet

Incumbent Kersti Kaljulaid is eligible for a second consecutive term, but also has not declared herself in or out at the time of writing.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has stated a desire for a unifying candidate, ideally to be found via the Riigikogu ballots.

Põlluaas is EKRE's own candidate as endorsed by party leader Martin Helme. EKRE has 19 Riigikogu seats, meaning Põlluaas would need additional support from other parties' MPs to even run (a quorum of 21 votes in favor is required to run as a candidate).

Should the process get spun out to the electoral college stage, Põlluaas said that this would be harder to predict since not only party discipline, but also personal preferences and sympathies of those in the college – according to reforms put in place following the 2016 elections, the number of mandates in the electoral colleges have been more than halved to 107 – play their part.

He also told "Esimene stuudio" that he found it strange that, two-and-a-half months before the presidential electoral process starts in late August, he is the only person so far to be in the hunt.

The time should also be used to uncover what type of president the country wants, what values they should hold and who the candidate may be.

"However, it's just a matter of making secret agreements, hiding candidates, fearing that they will get holes picked in them. The situation is totally strange," he went on.

The focus of the debate on the presidential election five years ago was completely misleading, as it gave the impression that the people would choose the president, he added.

After several rounds of inconclusive voting at Riigikogu and electoral colleges, Kersti Kaljulaid was brought in as a dark horse candidate, plucked from her long-term role at the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg.

Põlluaas said that then-speaker of the Riigikogu, Eiki Nestor (SDE), called the presidential elections date too late, with the result being they could not be resolved between the Riigikogu and the electoral college stages.

Põlluaas: Reform-led government missing opportunities to borrow to invest in infrastructure

This meant that ultimately a president got appointed, rather than the electoral process ran out of time, he said.

Of set policies at stake in October's local elections, which would come after the presidential elections if they get wrapped up swiftly, but which would predate a final candidate if the process became drawn out as in 2016, Põlluaas said that social housing and job guarantees would be key topics.

He also criticized the current Reform/Center coalition, or at least the Reform component, for being too devoted to austerity, without sufficient analysis, and for not pursuing the use of loans in, for instance, a long-discussed project to make Estonia's main inter-city highways four-lane where they are mostly two-lane.

The local elections are on October 17. The presidential election process starts at the end of October.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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