Loophole in Estonia's election law: Live in one place, run in another
The political parties are using their more famous members on local election lists to get more votes, distributing them across districts—a practice that sometimes leads to the strangest situations, writes Rene Kundla, ERR's correspondent in Lääne and Ida-Viru County.
Some time ago, Ida-Viru County daily Põhjarannik wrote about a case where a rural municipality refused to pay parent benefits to a mother because she lived elsewhere—despite her entry in the local population register.
According to the same logic, Estonia’s Electoral Committee would have to bar several candidates from standing for election. While in the case of parliamentary elections the place of entry of a candidacy isn’t connected to a candidate’s registered place of residence, local elections are different—here, any candidate for a council seat has to be a registered resident of the municipality where they are running on the cut-off date of Aug. 1 of the election year.
Though the registered place of residence isn’t specified in Estonian law in any more detail, then-Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder responded to an enquiry in the matter saying the following: “Submitting false information to gain the right to stand for election is without a doubt reprehensible and goes against the sense of justice of the real permanent residents of the local administration unit in question.”
The matter is dealt with in a bluntly-enough fashion for a politician like First Vice-President of the Riigikogu Enn Eesmaa (Center) to register in Kuressaare in Saare County to be the Center Party’s leading candidate in the local election district.
As Eesmaa told paper Saarte Hääl, he simply registered there “to abide by the law”, but wasn’t planning to move there.
The most glaring example of this practice is former Center Party chairman and suspended Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, the eccentric godfather of Estonian politics who was on billboard ads all over Tallinn inviting people to get registered in the capital—while he himself lives on his farm in the village of Eru in Lääne-Viru County. (Savisaar is doing the same thing again this year, running for office in Tallinn while really living an hour’s drive away from the capital; ed.)
But probably the strangest thing is currently happening in the two eastern counties, where recently married Center Party MPs Siret Kotka-Repinski and Martin Repinski have at least legally moved to different places: Repinski is a candidate in Jõhvi, and Kotka-Repinski running for office in Rakvere (not just in another municipality, but another county; ed.).
Going back to the beginning of the story, where the mother with her fictitious permanent place of residence was denied parent benefits, I suggest that the members of the electoral committee visit the so-called homes of suspicious candidates. If the culprit isn’t encountered in their fake home and if neighbors haven’t bumped into them there either, then the votes for this person should be annulled, and the seats on the local council redistributed accordingly.
Rene Kundla is ERR’s correspondent in Lääne-Viru and Ida-Viru County.
Editor: Dario Cavegn