Although the practice of registering 'fictitious' places of residence ahead of local elections has been going on for years, candidates in the Tartu County town of Elva have now taken legal action to remove those who have allegedly done just that. According to a constitutional law expert, the regulations governing the topic should be reviewed.
Such addresses are real locations and the candidate may even reside there some of the time, but the registration is carried out solely in the interests of the election and the candidate will likely re-register at their old address once the election is over.
The practice is legal, but critics say that this form of "election tourism" takes advantage of smaller municipalities in particular, given candidates temporarily registering there often have little to no connection with the locale.
In many regions, the residence registrations of candidates in the regions where they wish to stand for election have raised questions in recent weeks. For example, in Elva municipality, three candidates from the Isamaa party list have applied to a court to oblige the municipality to change the residence data of four competing candidates.
The first-tier administrative court did not satisfy the complainants' request, but they plan to appeal at the second-tier circuit court.
"The decision from the administrative court was somewhat surprising. Never before has such an issue been raised, and we want to go all the way, to find out whether it is acceptable if the notice of residence and the actual permanent residence do not tally," Vahur Jaakma (Isamaa), one of the three Elva municipal candidates, said.
"Current law says that a person can have several places of residence and he decides what his or her registered place of residence is. It has been my choice to contribute to Elva's municipality," Marika Saar, running with the "Sinu Elva" electoral alliance and one of the candidates being complained about, said.
Constitutional law expert Paloma Krõõt Tupay says that people with several places of residence can decide where they want to register as their permanent residence. What is important here is whether the candidate is ready to contribute to the local life of a municipality where they will run, she said.
The issue abuts on to one of multiple persons registering at the same address.
"If, for example, a person registers an older lady's home as a place of residence, one where 25 other people already live at the time before the local elections. This seems dubious," she went on.
On the other hand, the realities of commuting etc. must also be taken into account.
"Some people have to work in a town, and spend most of their time outside that town, in another local municipality, and would like to contribute there as well," Tupay said.
Political scientist Alar Kilp said that his official residence has also been changed in previous years, in order to run in the elections. In his view, the current activities of the members of Isamaa can be considered a political tactic in getting rid of competitors, which works especially in smaller areas, where there is a greater sense of community.
"This is definitely such a strategic tool in party politics in elections because the target is still the voters of other parties. However, if the precedent is successful, it will be used against Isamaa in the future," Kilp said.
Another high-profile residence case concerns Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar, who, while he ordinarily resides in Lääne-Viru County, is running in the Nõmme district of Tallinn and registered ahead of the deadline to do just that. Saar says that the law needs changing, noting that many people in Estonia are mobile, due to work, childcare, leisure and other reasons. Saar's wife, well-known actor Ülle Lichtfeld, is running for SDE too, but in Rakvere.
Running high-profile candidates strategically across key (or all) municipalities is the norm for the political parties, thanks in part to Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation.
Any excess votes a "magnet" candidate gets after clinching a seat can be distributed to less popular candidates lower down the list.
The practice can even lead to individuals winning a seat who only polled a few hundred votes in their own right, while the "vote magnet" might not even take up the seat, if they are even permitted to take up a seat (for instance in the case of government ministers and MEPs, who cannot sit on local councils).
Editor: Roberta Vaino