Russian citizens voting at local elections in Estonia does not pose a security risk, while taking away said right surely would, Robert Kiisler writes.
Isamaa MPs have tabled draft legislation that would rob non-citizens permanently living in Estonia of their right to vote in local elections. The Reform Party has voiced support for the bill. The Social Democrats remain the only government partner to oppose the initiative.
Both Isamaa and Reform claim that Russian citizens' right to vote poses a threat to Estonia's independence. The real reason the parties are looking to curb voting rights is the fact neither is popular among non-Estonian speaking voters. In other words, it would benefit them if a part of the population simply could not participate.
Non-citizens can only participate in local government council elections, not Riigikogu ones. They cannot affect government policy, which is why claims of a security threat cannot be taken seriously. The true aim of the bill is to collectively punish people of Russian origin for the Ukraine war.
Revoking voting rights now would constitute a historical mistake that even the newly independent and jubilant Estonian state managed to avoid. The authors of the Constitution realized that a person of Russian origin cannot be held responsible for the country's crimes. Forsaking that principle 30 years on would mark significant and irreversible stagnation in terms of integration, human rights and democracy. The move would cause over half of the residents of Narva to lose their right to vote.
No Estonian party has condoned the Kremlin's aggression. Fears that local governments will be taken over by Putinists are baseless. The right to shape the future of one's area of residence is legitimate and self-evident. Revoking it would not boost the loyalty of non-citizens but work to further undermine their trust in a country that comes off uncaring. A security risk is posed not by Russian citizens voting in Estonia, but limiting said right.
It is clear that the debate over limiting the voting right of non-citizens is not motivated by any real national security threat but a small-minded and heated desire to put occupiers or at least their fellow countrymen in their place. Whether it does anything to help the Ukrainians is of little to no concern for Russophobic politicians.
Still, we should recall what they are currently fighting for in Ukraine. If it really is about democratic values, we could at least hold them in esteem ourselves. Taking away a person's right to vote because of where they are from is in stark contrast with these principles and rather characteristic of Putin's Russia than a modern democracy.
Editor: Marcus Turovski