No coalition consensus on removing Russian citizen voting rights in Estonia

A voter getting their ballot paper stamped.
A voter getting their ballot paper stamped. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

There remains no consensus within the incoming Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition as to what to do with the rights of Russian and Belarusian citizens ordinarily resident in Estonia to vote in local elections, with only an agreement existing not to amend the Constitution on this issue.

All foreign citizens permanently resident in Estonia can vote in the local elections, held every four years, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting February 2022 has brought the issue, among many others, into the spotlight.

The coalition agreement signed Monday reads that: "We will develop the legal framework, in cooperation with constitutional experts, to suspend the rights of citizens of the Russian Federation and of Belarus to vote in local elections, without amending the Constitution."

Continuing Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) stated that in his party's opinion, stripping the right of Russian citizens to vote in local elections, if they are permanently resident in Estonia, could not in any case be done without amending the Constitution; there are others who believe that this in fact can be done.

Läänemets said: "The chancellor of justice and the president have stated that it is more the case that it would be necessary to change the constitution. The [coalition] agreement now means that we will analyze this to see how it may be done. One one thing we are agreed: This coalition will not start amending the Constitution."

As to ERR's question on why this was written into the coalition agreement at all – if it is the case that stripping Russian citizens' rights to vote in Estonian elections cannot be carried out without amending the Constitution, but at the same time the incoming coalition has pledged not to amend said Coalition, Läänemets said: "This I don't know. There are different viewpoints here, and a different interpretation of the law. In that sense, analysis should be carried out to look at what while arise from that. Making a start is only viable on that basis."

Incoming Finance Minister Mart Võrklaev (Reform), however, has clearly stated that voting rights will be taken away from Russian citizens, if this can be done without changing the constitution.

Võrklaev said: "This is the coalition's agreement, whereby if we can do this (ie. strip the voting rights-ed.) in that format, we will do, and it is formulated that way in the written text."

Läänemets meanwhile said that he cannot yet state how drawing up the necessary legal framework or performing the related analysis will take. This has to be ascertained via the help of the ministry's officials, he added.

"I would rather to listen to what the [ministerial] house says, on how that can be best conducted. Sometimes you can obtain a legal opinion from a law firm, but usually in such cases these things are is based on what legal scholars who work at the universities think. I do not exclude requesting an opinion from another state institution."

Other moves made in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine include stripping the right to bear firearms thus far enjoyed by Russian and Belarusian citizens resident in Estonia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

Source: ERR radio news

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