President formally green lights election, advises level-headed voting

Kersti Kaljulaid in Jõhvi on Saturday, where she signed the document sealing the general election date as 3 March 2019, recognised the work done by local electoral volunteers, and stressed the importance of responsible voting.
Kersti Kaljulaid in Jõhvi on Saturday, where she signed the document sealing the general election date as 3 March 2019, recognised the work done by local electoral volunteers, and stressed the importance of responsible voting. Source: ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid signed into action the go ahead for the general election in Estonia, due on 3 March 2019.

Whilst the date of 3 March has long been talked about, according to § 78 (3) of the Estonian constitution, the president ''calls regular elections of the Riigikogu..'' (official English translation), so the move was necessary to make the date official. The deadline for so doing was Sunday, 2 December.

Ms Kaljulaid also made a speech at an event in the eastern Estonian town of Jõhvi, giving practical advice and setting out her views on the importance of democratic behaviour.

Electoral workers recognised

"As important as it is to help those in need, one's community and society, as is being done by those being recognised today and tens of thousands of other fine volunteers, it is also important come together as citizens to ballot boxes every four years – be it at a local polling station or a personal computer at home, the option of which has been available for one and a half decades already – and decide how to proceed with our country,'' the president said, speaking at the city's concert hall, where the work of volunteers involved in the electoral process was recognised.

In addition to voting on the day at a polling station, and the now-famous online voting, other options include advance distance voting in an electoral district other than the voter's home registered location (the ballot paper is securely delivered to the home district in that case) and voting at Estonian diplomatic missions worldwide for the many Estonian citizens living outside the country.

"The essence of democracy is competition and, if the rate of activity tends to be rapid, the collision of various ideas. The essence of democracy is never anger; democracy never hurts. Democracy is not the victory of those who scream more loudly over politely silent people. We must never forget that, amidst the jumble of competing ideas," she went on. 

Values a candidate has at heart are crucial

"As of today [Saturday, 1 December] there are 92 days until the elections. I expect that over those days, we will hear a lot about who is the most suitable person to gain approval yet who others do not believe deserves it at all," the president said.

"Increasingly, we must think about the kind of values the candidate standing in front of us has. Election promises and things the candidates themselves really want to talk about, on the TV and radio, online, on advertising posters in the street, stores or public transport, are one thing. But at least as important is the question of whether we can predict and assess how a candidate will behave in situations which are unpredictable today – which we do not talk about today, because we do not know what the future will bring. This must be considered too, as in unpredictable situations, we always act according to our compass of values," she continued.

"What kind of values does your candidate stand for? What is the basis for the decisions they make?" she asked rhetorically.

"When making your decision, in addition to taking a glance at the election promises also take a closer look at people and assess their compass of values. Or even focus predominantly on that. Practical promises are not empty dust, those are important, too. More important than that is whether our politics is the politics of extending a helping hand, the politics of supporting one another and standing beside one another,'' Ms Kaljulaid continued.

Parties begin officially registering candidates

The president also stressed the importance of fair play in the run up to the election and not taking advantage of an opponent's misfortunes, particularly if those misfortunes arise from slurs or other false information: "Furthermore, in tough debates, in this world of false facts, whether every candidate is prepared to put their hand on their heart, stand beside their competition and say: 'If you are struck by an avalanche based on false accusations, I will not use it to support my own campaign. I will stand beside you and call for everyone to determine the facts and then see'," she went on.

The president recently got involved in the furore surrounding the adoption of the UN Global Compact on Migration, stating that without unity in the government, she would not be attending the meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, a little over a week from now, where the compact is to be assented to by world leaders present. Whilst, following a Riigikogu vote on the issue, the government is now nominally united on the issue, the president will not now be attending the Marrakesh meeting.

The electoral committee is due to distribute mandates to the 12 electoral districts at 12.00 on Monday, with submission of candidate registration opening 10.00 on Tuesday and running to 18.00 on 17 January, 2019. Most of the political parties have announced the candidates running in the number one spot in each district.

Only Estonian citizens are eligible to vote in the general election on 3 March, though EU citizens can vote in the European elections taking place towards the end of May.

More information on the electoral system is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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