Lauri Vahtre: On the election rights of non-citizens

Lauri Vahtre.
Lauri Vahtre. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The state must ensure that the right to vote belongs to those who have demonstrated their loyalty or in whose case it can be presumed based on general factors, Lauri Vahtre writes.

Estonia gave non-citizens the right to vote in local government council elections in 1993. We can say in hindsight that while this concession was probably inevitable, it was also forced upon Estonia. Europe did not know Estonians' mentality and it was feared there would be nationality-based discrimination of Russians, which Russian propaganda claimed and continues to claim to this day.

In truth, there was neither oppression, discrimination nor any plans for it, while the voting right concession was made and retained in legislation. The Latvians kept their heads down and managed to avoid the frontal attack by European ideologists and having to make the concession for one reason or another. Citizens of foreign countries not in the EU still can't vote in Latvia.

The topic has resurfaced in Estonia in connection with the Ukraine war. In a situation where Russian athletes are not permitted to participate in international competitions, it is extremely peculiar that Russian citizens get to directly influence the power in the Estonian capital and indirectly the presidential election (should it move to the Electoral College). This makes very little sense.

Claims by Hanno Pevkur (Reform Party) and others according to which taking away Russian citizens' right to vote requires a constitutional amendment is misinformation pure and simple. Section 156 of the Constitution leaves matters of the electorate up to legislation, as is the case today. The current law could be amendment without too much difficulty.

Pevkur also points to a legal norm in the same section according to which local life needs to be run by local residents. However, he fails to explain why the Reform Party and Center Party in 2007 abolished a provision that people had to have been living in the area for a fixed period of time in order to be able to vote in local elections. Current legislation makes no mention of such a residency qualification, which makes worrying about it somewhat hypocritical.

[Former Minister of Health and Labor] Tanel Kiik (Center) is urging compassion for "old ladies" who would be robbed of their right to vote because they have not passed the language exam. While that is unfortunate, the "old lady" in question was 30 years younger 30 years ago, which is when she could have easily passed the language test but instead chose Russian citizenship and did so consciously.

[Minister of Justice] Maris Lauri's sorrow in that the amendment would also take away the right to vote of British, Norwegian and American citizens living in Estonia is demagogy. It is not a real concern or something to be worried about. Their right to vote does not outweigh the importance of the Estonian capital being run based on Estonian votes as opposed to those of Russian citizens.

[Social Democratic Party leader] Lauri Läänemets' appeal is equally feeble. Läänemets suggests taking away their right to vote will achieve nothing in terms of rendering these people more loyal to Estonia and asks instead how to do that. What he inadvertently lets slip is that even he does not consider them to be loyal enough today. A good question, no doubt, but also a naive one.

The state is not a kindergarten teacher tasked with someone's care. It simply needs to make sure the right to vote belongs to those who have demonstrated their loyalty or in whose case it can be presumed based on general factors. Those who have convincingly proven over the last 30 years that they believe Estonian is not worth learning and Estonian citizenship worth applying for can do without.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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