According to his information, a Ministry of Justice analysis shows that Russian citizens cannot be stripped of their voting rights in Estonia without a constitutional amendment, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said Wednesday, adding that the draft of the corresponding bill published by ERR's online news portal was drawn up by the office of the Reform Party.
Läänemets recalled that when the current, Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition was being formed, it was agreed when the question of Russian citizens' voting rights were discussed that an analysis of the Constitution would have to be conducted first. In other words, whether it's even possible to revoke voting rights without a constitutional amendment.
"To my knowledge, this analysis has been done at the Ministry of Justice, and according to the information at my disposal, this analysis shows that it isn't possible to do without a constitutional amendment," Läänemets said in an appearance on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Wednesday.
"And another interesting turn here is that this bill [that would allow for disenfranchisement] has been drawn up by the office of the Reform Party, not by the Justice Ministry," he highlighted.
According to the SDE chair, the coalition hasn't had the chance to discuss this issue yet, meaning that all of this has been arbitrary.
"Perhaps the officials at the Justice Ministry weren't willing to [write this bill], as their analysis showed that it would be unconstitutional," he suggested. "Still, it would be good, of course, if bills came not from a party office, but from the ministry."
Läänemets added that the SDE's fundamental position on the matter of Russian citizens' voting rights is that you cannot do anything unconstitutional.
"There's no way the government can put out an unconstitutional bill," he emphasized. "That's why I believe it's crucial to consider this issue specifically from a constitutional perspective — because at some point this was written into the Constitution for a reason. And the people of Estonia signed that with a referendum."
Another issue, according to the interior minister, is the security aspect — and in more than one respect.
"The question is, if the majority of people in a local government can't vote, then how will they start demonstrating their views?" he asked. "If elections aren't somewhere you can express your opinions on society, then that may be [done in the form of] other actions. We have to answer that much as well — what those will be."
As Läänemets had not yet seen the draft of the bill in question at the time he spoke with ERR, he was unable to say to what extent it had taken the issue of security into account.
"There's quite a large number of Russian citizens, the majority of whom are pensioners, who vote," he said.
Asked specifically whether it's necessary to restrict their voting rights from an internal security perspective, Läänemets said that not a single institution within the Ministry of the Interior's area of administration has proposed such an initiative.
Estonia is home to a total of 67,000 Russian citizens with the right to vote in local government elections.
Editor: Aili Vahtla