Sander Maripuu: Will the next presidential election be like previous ones?

Sander Maripuu
Sander Maripuu Source: Private collection

Recent presidential elections have brought us new presidents, but not many people are happy with the electoral process. There is a lot of talk about changing the electoral system in the run-up to, and (immediately) after, the (presidential) elections, however, it has not led anywhere. If there is a desire to improve the system before the next elections, now is the time to do it, writes Sander Maripuu (Eesti 200).

The new government has very little time before the next Riigikogu elections (and barely until the end of the year, if the active election campaigning period is taken into account) to do anything major. Therefore, it is understandable that the coalition agreement contains only a few major goals and rather little in relation to smaller issues.

There is, however, one issue in need of reform, which comes to the attention of politicians once every five years, only to be forgotten again until the next time, and that is the presidential election. If major changes are to be made in this area, (the process) ought to begin before the next Riigikogu elections. However, that willingness is nowhere to be seen.

The reason why it is already quite urgent, is that major changes to the presidential election procedure would require a change to the Constitution. This, however, is most realistically done in two consecutive Riigikogu terms.

Given that the next elections to the Riigikogu will take place in 2027, and the next presidential elections in 2026, it is clear, that unless the current Riigikogu initiates the necessary changes, the next presidential elections will essentially follow the same procedure as the previous ones. However, the general dissatisfaction with them will be remembered by many.

I have previously proposed three changes in regard to this issue: do away with the election rounds in the Riigikogu (there are currently up to 3), restore the balance between the representatives of the Riigikogu and local governments in the electoral college, and remove the possibility of nominating new candidates between rounds.

This means that candidates could be nominated within a reasonable time before the electoral college convenes, the people and the electorate would have a chance to get to know them and their visions for the role of president, and after (for example) three or four rounds of voting we would reach a result where the next president is elected. Endless failed elections should not even be a theoretical possibility.

However, for these changes to take place, the Constitution needs to be amended. Only by amending the President of the Republic Election Act (VPVS), would it be possible to implement a change in the number of members of the Riigikogu and the number of representatives of local authorities who make up the electoral college. It should be remembered that, in the context of the merger of municipalities, that this number fell from 335 people (101 Riigikogu members and 234 municipality representatives) in the 2016 (presidential) elections, to 208 people in 2021 (101 members of the State Assembly and 107 municipality representatives).

These figures are provided in Section 22 of the VPVS, which sets the number of representatives of local authorities, according to the number of citizens entitled to vote in the territory of a municipality or city, on January 1 of the same year.

There are only three possible ways to amend the Constitution: by referendum (rather unlikely for an issue like this), by the Riigikogu as a matter of urgency (requires the support of 81 members of the Riigikogu to be dealt with as a matter of urgency, and is even less likely), or by two consecutive sessions of the Riigikogu (the first time with the support of at least 51 members and the second time with the support of 61 members).

As the Constitution also counts on a rather lengthy procedure (at least four months from the first reading), the latest time to start (the process) is September-October. The current government has concentrated on solving big and important crises, but has not shown that it is capable of dealing with (some of) the smaller, yet still important, longer term issues.

Of the three current government partners, both the Reform Party and the Social Democrats addressed the presidential election procedures in their 2019 election manifestoes. Reform considers that changes are needed to "take into account the reduction in the number of municipalities as a result of the administrative reform, and to ensure an efficient election process", but believes that "the President should preferably be elected by the Riigikogu." The SDE, on the other hand, promised to transfer (responsibility for) "the election of the President, to the electoral college," while also increasing the proportion of representatives of local authorities in the electoral college. Common ground, would therefore exist.

While Isamaa does not address the issue in its election manifesto, in 2017, then Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu proposed similar changes: to move the elections to an electoral assembly, increase the share of local government representatives and  extend the presidential term of office, while limiting the maximum number of terms to one (instead of the current two).

President Alar Karis, who most recently called for clear proposals from the political parties at the end of last year, has also promised to keep the issue of changes to the presidential election procedure under discussion. Hopefully he will be able to bring the issue back onto the agenda before we have to admit, that this time it has failed again.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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