Laanet: Russian citizens voting in local elections in Estonia carries risk

Kalle Laanet (Reform).
Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The right of Russian citizens to vote in local elections entails risk Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) said.

The minister made his remarks in the context of a draft bill prepared by the Ministry of Justice which would amend the relevant legislation to prevent citizens of aggressor nations, as defined by the European Parliament and/or by the Riigikogu, from being eligible to vote in local elections in Estonia.

At present, all residents of Estonia, in addition to citizens, are entitled to vote in local government elections.

The minister gave an interview to ERR, which follows.

Interviewer Indrek Kiisler: The Ministry of Justice has completed a draft bill that restricts the right of citizens of aggressor countries to take part in local elections. What does the bill include?

Kalle Laanet: One of the main points of consistency in this bill relates to aggression. As both the Riigikogu in Estonia and the European Parliament have declared Russia an aggressor state, we really hold the belief that the citizens of these countries should not have the opportunity or the right to participate in the elections to political governing bodies in Estonia. 

According to Russia's own constitution, a Russian citizen is obliged to provide comprehensive assistance to Russia, meaning the 67,000 Russian citizens residing in Estonia are also obliged to do so, according to the constitution of the Russian state.

Kiisler: So would this be a temporary move? If the invasion of Ukraine and the war there should come to an end, will [Russian citizens resident in Estonia] be given back the right to vote?

Laanet: If that country has returned to the roster of normal democratic countries, then it is certainly viable to participate in elections according to the Estonian constitution. But that is for the legislature to decide upon.

Would the adoption of this bill actually require an amendment to the Estonian Constitution? The Constitution states that all adults who are registered to live in that municipality can take part in the local elections there. There is no distinction made between different citizenships.

Different constitutional experts hold different opinions; there is no consensus here. Maybe this issue will have to be discussed by the Supreme Court, maybe not, I can't be the judge of that.

But the situation has definitely changed. Whereas earlier the thinking was that there would be no direct threat to the security of the Estonian state from Russian citizens [resident here], now, there is a full-scale war in Ukraine, and the security situation has completely changed.

When we read the preamble of the constitution, we must do everything to ensure Estonia's internal and external peace. Now if we look at it from this aspect, it is not 100 percent guaranteed, there are some risks here.

The Social Democrats have opposed this kind of treatment of Russian citizens. What will you do to convince them this time, that this bill certainly needs to be formalized into legislation?

That's a matter for debate. In my opinion, linking it with the aggressor state could be the argument in favor of why Russian citizens should not have the right to participate in Estonian democracy during a certain period of time. Certainly, most of these people have had the opportunity to get rid of their Russian citizenship and apply for Estonian citizenship.

 In that sense, this has been their free choice. You cannot be on one side at one moment, and on the other, at the next.

Latvia has taken a very clear stance since regaining independence, whereby such a right has not been granted to Russian citizens. Today, they are looking even more vigorously at language requirements.

Last week, I paid a visit to my Latvian colleague. From September 1, a law will apply there where people who do not speak sufficient Latvian should not be permitted to reside in Latvia. But they have also said that no one will be ferried to the border by bus. Perhaps this deadline needs to be extended. Our neighbors have taken these decisions very seriously and very straightforwardly, in order not to support the citizens of an aggressor country, or to simply treat them like ordinary citizens of their own country.

Is it realistic to expect that the amendment to the law will be passed by the Riigikogu in the fall of this year?

This is hard to evaluate. We do not know exactly what will happen in the Riigikogu at the beginning of September, when MPs resume their daily duties (government ministers do not sit at the Riigikogu – ed.).

Have you also received feedback from [Reform's coalition partners] the Social Democrats and from Eesti 200?

I have forwarded this draft to the Reform Party Riigikogu chief whip, while according to the information I have, the coalition council has not yet discussed the matter, so I have no feedback on that at present.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: ERR Radio News

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