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Minister: Russian citizens in Estonia voting rights discussions have stalled

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

The issue of stripping the right to vote from Russian citizens resident in Estonia has stalled at the political level, Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) says.

Laanet added that the Social Democratic Party (SDE) has expressed opposition to the proposed move, while there are also considerations of whether the policy would be viable without amending the Estonian Constitution.

As things stand, permanent residents of Estonia are eligible to vote in Estonia's local government elections, held every four years. The next local elections are in October 2025, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine from February 2022 has brought the matter, as one of national security, into the spotlight though, according to Minister Laanet, it has retreated from that spotlight again.

Laanet said the coalition has not touched the issue of stripping voting rights from Russian and also Belarusian citizens residing in Estonia over the past month, adding that coalition party SDE is holding out.

The minister told ERR that: "We haven't moved forward on this as of today. On the one side, there are legal and political arguments supporting the restriction, but on the other, arguments are present that it cannot be done without amending the constitution."

"We are actually at stalemate," he added.

"The Ministry of Justice and in particular the Reform Party, within the coalition, cannot single-handedly pass this bill at cabinet level and then take it to the Riigikogu."

"I cannot state that this matter is off the table, since it is also one of the points found in the coalition agreement, but we have not discussed the issue at the political level over the last month. In any case, I do not think that it should remain off the table, given the security situation has not changed. Russia is still exactly the same aggressor country as it was last year," the minister continued.

Laanet noted legal experts have different opinions on how the policy might be enacted, adding that his own ministry found it more reasonable to restrict Russian and Belarusian residents in Estonia from taking part in elections, but in another way, for instance by putting in place language requirements.

In any case, these alternatives can only be discussed if the proposal full to strip Russian and Belarusian citizens' voting rights has been unequivocally struck down by the coalition.

Since the topic has not been talked over, this point has not been reached, Laanet added.

Back in mid-August 2023, the minister of justice sponsored the bill to limit the rights of citizens of aggressor nations such as Russia and Belarus from voting in local elections in Estonia. Laanet presented the bill to the coalition partners at that time, while the Ministry of Justice conducted legal analysis, also in August, on whether voting rights could be stripped from Russian citizens without amending the constitution.

As of May 2023 there were an estimated nearly 69,000 Russian and Belarusian nationals who were also residents of Estonia and thus who would be affected by the policy, were it to be enacted.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: ERR radio news, reporter Johannes Voltri.

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