Toomas Jürgenstein: No need to amend Constitution if we believe in Ukraine

Toomas Jürgenstein.
Toomas Jürgenstein. Source: Private collection

I believe that Russia will long since have lost the war once local elections roll around in Estonia. Trying to bypass the Estonian Constitution because of a fading empire would demonstrate little faith in a Ukrainian victory and not enough pride in our Constitution, Toomas Jürgenstein writes.

The creeping start to the [Riigikogu] elections campaign is off the rails from the start. It is entirely understandable to want to limit the participation of citizens of aggressor states in local elections in Estonia, while it seems utterly excessive to also take that right away from British, Icelandic, American, Norwegian, Ukrainian (suffering from that very aggression) etc. citizens.

The corresponding bill has sparked a lively debate. Why mention the elections campaign? It is very simple. Both President Alar Karis and Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise have suggested the initiative might be unconstitutional. Had the authors been serious in their intent, they should have tabled a proposal to amend the Constitution. Processing the bill as anything else is little more than base propaganda.

Political analyst Tõnis Saarts finds that limiting the right to vote would rather have negative consequences. "Therefore, if those aiming for the revocation of the local elections voting rights of Russian citizens and stateless persons cannot present a realistic scenario where local councils end up in the hands of pro-Putin activists unless something is done immediately, their argumentation falls short. I would have found a voting rights debate much more relevant following the Bronze Night as opposed to now when the Ukraine war has split the Russian community and the creation of a formidable pro-Putin front is unlikely to say the least even on the local level."

President of Estonia Alar Karis said in his Riigikogu fall session speech: "It is my general conviction that the rule of law must not be bent even in crisis situations. For example, it is difficult to support calls to strip non-citizens of their local elections voting right, just as I consider it to be wrong to attempt to incite collective mistrust or label large groups of people."

Finally, I would quote Jüri Adams who has greatly contributed to our Constitution: "It might be right to strip some people of their Estonian citizenship, expel or revoke the residence permit of others. Revoking the person's right to vote in local elections could also belong to that list. But I cannot imagine what would have to happen to justify robbing entire groups of people of the right collectively. But in terms of individual actions, for example, undermining Estonian independence or defensive will, taking away a person's individual right to participate in local elections could be entirely legal."

Sober and analytical voices are rather opposing the planned limitation of third country citizens' voting rights. I would add a personal point. The initiative has been justified by pointing to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It seems to me that those praising the bill do not believe in a Ukrainian victory. In the words of Mart Helme, uttered in front of the Riigikogu toward the start of the war: "Ukraine has been ended! What are we even talking about still. Russians do not need to invade it, they will just take over the country!"

I believe that Russia will long since have lost and dictator Putin will be hiding under a long table somewhere in the Urals by the time local elections in Estonia roll around. Perhaps he will even console himself by thinking that he lost in Ukraine and had to escape Moscow but at least managed to undermine the authority of the Estonian Constitution. Trying to bypass the Estonian Constitution because of a fading empire would demonstrate little faith in a Ukrainian victory and not enough pride in our Constitution.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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