Center Party completes bill to change presidential election system

Ballots being counted at the first round of the 2021 presidential election.
Ballots being counted at the first round of the 2021 presidential election. Source: Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu

A draft bill aiming to change the way presidents are elected in Estonia has been completed by the Center Party, newspaper Postimees reported on Tuesday. It will see the public, not the Riigikogu, vote for a new head of state.

However, there is not enough support in the Riigikogu to start changing the Constitution, the newspaper wrote.

The Center Party, the junior party of the ruling coalition, promised to initiate a bill on direct presidential elections after the first round of voting in the presidential election failed this fall.

The group wants to submit the draft for discussion before Christmas and pass the legislation before the next presidential election in 2026.

Center's argument in favor of the change is that it would strengthen the institution of the president, give people the opportunity to make a choice and rule out the possibility of the elections failing.

Jaanus Karilaid, head of the Center Party group said: "Let the people choose. The people making a mistake is better than politicians trying to agree on something by means of their various political schemes. Yes, we did well this time, but no one was satisfied with this procedure."

The bill says a candidate could be nominated if at least 10,000 citizens with the right to vote back them.

Candidate registration would begin 60 days before the election day and end 40 days before the election day.

There would be two rounds of voting. The candidate who receives more than half of the votes cast in the election will be declared elected.

If no candidate obtains the required majority, a run-off will be held between the two candidates who get the highest number of votes. In the second ballot, the candidate who received the highest number of votes will be declared elected, the bill says.

The role of the president would remain the same. 

Eiki Nestor, former speaker of the Riigikogu who has been a member of seven line-ups of the legislative body, is critical of direct election of the head of state.

He said direct elections would lead to a crisis of democracy as candidates could make promises they cannot keep.

"After that, more power will be demanded for the president, and it will not be clear who has power," said Nestor, who argues that further steps in that direction would jeopardize the separation of powers.

Nestor believes that the bill will not succeed in the Riigikogu.

Former chancellor of justice Allar Jõks, who stood in the presidential elections of 2016, also does not support a direct election.

"Problems related to the election of the President of the Republic could be solved without amending the Constitution by supplementing the President of the Republic Election Act by bringing forward the deadline for submitting nominations," Jõks said.

To amend the Constitution, the bill must receive the support of the majority of members of two successive line-ups of the Riigikogu.

Such a prospect is unlikely to happen, Postimees wrote.

EKRE and the Center Party are in favor of changing the Consitution. The Reform Party, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party are not in favor of the direct election of the president.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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