Think tank: Limit president's time in office to single seven-year term

Their successors' deal wouldn't be quite as sweet: Presidents Meri, Rüütel, Ilves and Kaljulaid.
Their successors' deal wouldn't be quite as sweet: Presidents Meri, Rüütel, Ilves and Kaljulaid. Source: Eesti Meedia/Scanpix

The Foundation for State Reform, a think tank started earlier this year by a group of businessmen, has suggested to change the president's time in office to a single seven-year term. This would increase the president's independence, they believe. The single-term rule would also keep any incumbent president from working towards reelection rather than putting the focus of their work on their duties as head of state.

The foundation also proposes changing the way the president is elected. Instead of leaving this task first to parliament, and only in case of parliamentary deadlock to a specially called electoral college, the foundation suggests that a college comprised of the Riigikogu's 101 members as well as another 100 representatives of local governments around the country should elect the head of state.

'This new electoral system would have to follow the principle of the current election [of the president] in parliament as set out in the Constitution,' the foundation wrote in its recommendations. The combination of 101 MPs and another 100 local government representatives would grant 'a symbolic majority' to the members of the Riigikogu, doing justice to the Estonian state's parliamentary system of government.

As the same circle of reformers has suggested that the number of MPs in the Riigikogu should be reduced as well, this definition of the 'symbolic majority' inevitably needed to be followed by the assertion that with a decreased number of MPs, the number of representatives of local government would have to shrink as well.

There is a direct-democratic element in the suggestions as well where the think tank would like voters to be able to nominate candidates for president as well. In such a case, a candidate would be nominated with 20,000 votes, backed up by voters' signatures that would need to be collected for the purpose.

Simplify law, revisit presidential pay and pension

To reduce red tape and simplify the law concerning the role of the head of state, the foundation suggests to merge the acts of law that specify the election and the remuneration of the president.

The latter needed critical review, the reformers found: 'They need to be made more appropriate for a parliamentary state. The president's compensation could be brought on level with those of the prime minister,' they wrote.

Presidential pensions so far have included the head of state's spouse as well, a fact that sparked considerable criticism when former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves remarried shortly before leaving office. While Evelyn Ilves, his ex-wife, who had supported him in his role for close to a decade, was left without a pension, the president's new wife, Ieva Ilves, is getting one.

Another reason for criticism has been the fact that presidents tend to get younger, while overall life expectancy is increasing. Especially in combination with the suggested reduction to a single term, Estonia would end up paying presidential pensions to rather a large number of former holders of the office.

Changes suggested for auditor general and chancellor of justice as well

For the position of auditor general, the reformers suggest the same term limit as for the president, as an incumbent's interest in being reelected might taint their work, as they had a vested interest in not offending the Riigikogu, the government coalition and the president.

The chancellor of justice enters the picture where the reformers once again insist on greater independence of the country's constitutional institutions. Neither the auditor general nor the chancellor should partake in government and cabinet meetings, as is currently the case.

This sort of proximity to government puts the integrity of both institutions in question, the reformers found. Instead, the auditor general should be given the right to speak in the Riigikogu.

The Foundation for State Reform was founded in May 2018 by 28 well-known Estonian entrepreneurs and businessmen. The think tank comes with a predefined lifespan of a year and the aim to come up with a concept for thorough state reform as well as an outline of the necessary legal changes, to be submitted to parliament and the political parties.

Core points of the Foundation of State Reform's manifesto of 14 May this year include reducing the number of state officials by half, reducing the number of ministries, increasing the size of local government to that of the counties (i.e. drastically reduce the number of the only recently reformed local councils), shrinking parliament by 10 to 20 mandates, applying the instrument of public consultations and votes more broadly, giving the president one instead of two terms, making the courts independent from the Ministry of Justice, reducing the body of laws by 25 percent and attaching the office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner to that of the Chancellor of Justice.

Though the foundation never expressed any interest in actually starting a political party, their suggestions will doubtlessly make it into the upcoming hot phase of the campaign for the general election on 3 March next year.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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