Talk show: Seeder and Kallas argue over Russian citizens' voting right
Chairman of the Isamaa party Helir Valdor-Seeder and member of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) Madis Kallas argued over Russian citizens' right to vote in Estonia on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show.
Madis Kallas said that the Social Democrats are willing to debate the right of citizens of an aggressor state to vote in local elections, while it should not be done before elections.
"We are talking about the 2025 elections. Not the Riigikogu elections [in March] but rather the locals three years from now. We'll have enough time to discuss this matter over the next few years," he said.
Helir-Valdor Seeder disagreed, saying that the matter should have been squared away years ago. "Just like Russia escalated its aggression a year ago, Isamaa, while a member of the opposition, introduced a bill to strip the aggressor's citizens of their right to vote. When we sat down for coalition talks, the Social Democrats said it was a red line for them which they were not willing to discuss," Seeder said.
"And the fact local elections will not be held until 2025 does not mean we have that long. We know where the justice chancellor stands, we also know from experience that amending the Elections Act a year before elections is virtually impossible in Estonia. The new coalition would really have to scramble to get it done after elections. We cannot afford to lose almost an entire year," he remarked.
Seeder suggested that an aggressive state's citizens having the right to vote in Estonia affects state-level as well as local politics.
"They vote for candidates who represent a certain mentality, carry a certain message, represent the interests of a certain group of people – Russian citizens in this case who do not have to know the Constitution, do not and aren't obligated to speak Estonian and are not well-integrated into Estonian society. They have other interests, which do not serve cohesion, integration or security in Estonia," the conservative party's leader said.
Madis Kallas said that should SDE make the government after Riigikogu elections, they are willing to return to this matter. "We need to go over aspects of constitutionality, internal security. We need to hash these things out, and we have enough time to do it in time for the next local elections, also to avoid misunderstandings and internal security risks. We are prepared to move forward in those terms," he offered.
"Our position right now is that adjustments need to be made, while I agree that people, myself included, find incomprehensible a situation where supporters of Vladimir Putin have so much say in Estonian affairs. It is something we need to discuss. But we do not feel this should be turned into a core topic of these [Riigikogu] elections or this talk show for that matter," Kallas said.
Local government funding needs to change
Seeder and Kallas agreed that funding of local governments needs to change to make sure smaller municipalities can avoid insolvency.
"I think that it cannot work as long as we're trying to fund the rest of Estonia using the same models we have for Tallinn and Harju County. /.../ I believe we need to change the funding system. Funding schools in Harju County and other parts of the country based on the same capitation fee model, libraries that perhaps see four weekly patrons also having the same funding model, or rural areas simply lacking jobs for sufficient income tax revenue," Kallas said.
"I believe we need to look at Estonia bi-systemically. Whether in terms of schools, cultural institutions or something else... But the current practice of lumping a small village library in with one in central Tallinn in terms of how they are funded... there is no way this can work."
Helir-Valdor Seeder said that developing the revenue base of local governments and reorganizing their tasks needs to continue.
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Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski