Administrative reform lowers number of electors

Members of the Electoral College in front of the Estonia Concert Hall

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The next presidential election in Estonia could be different as a result of the administrative reform. The reform lowered the number of local governments in Estonia and through it also the number of presidential electors from local government councils in the Presidential Electoral College that is called upon should the parliament fail to elect the president. Because the Riigikogu has managed to elect the president only once before, parties are mulling changes to the presidential election procedure. Chairman of the Isamaa party Helir-Valdor Seeder proposed tackling the matter of number of electors first.

“The question now is whether the legislator wants to retain the ratio of electors to MPs we had before the administrative reform,” Seeder said.

At the previous presidential election in 2016 – before Estonia’s administrative reform – the college was made up of 234 electors and 101 MPs. The President of the Republic Election Act prescribes a certain number of electors from local governments based on number of citizens with the right to vote. Unless the law is amended, electors and MPs would number roughly the same at the next election. The parliament must decide whether to accept this ratio or change the procedure.

Seeder was not quick to say how many electors Isamaa would like to see. “I have talked to politicians from the Center Party and EKRE directly. We have also discussed it in-house,” he said, adding that no agreements have been made.

Helme undecided

The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) did not want to reveal its cards just yet either. Chairman Mart Helme said that it is first necessary to find consensus in the coalition council. “I would not get ahead of ourselves here. We need political consensus first.”

Majority coalition partner the Center Party already has a vision. The party’s deputy chairman Jaanus Karilaid said that because Center favors direct presidential elections in the long run but has no allies, except for EKRE, when it comes to this matter, they believe the role electors play is crucial. “As a compromise – because local councils stand closer to the citizen than the Riigikogu, we support increasing the number of electors through local councils,” Karilaid said. He added that there could be even more electors than in previous years when the Electoral College has been convened.

The social democrats firmly believe that electors should outnumber MPs in the electoral body. “What we could immediately do to boost the number of electors for the next presidential election is give each local government at least two,” said SDE chair Indrek Saar.

Chairman of opposition leader the Reform Party Kaja Kallas did not say how many electors the college should have as the party has not held a debate on the subject yet. Both Kallas and representatives of other parties mentioned that the entire presidential election procedure should be revisited.

Clarity needed urgently

Debates concerning the number of electors could pave the way for more fundamental discussion. For example, whether the people should elect the president, as suggested by Center and EKRE. Having just the electoral college elect the president has also been discussed. The latter idea has been proposed by the social democrats.

However, more fundamental changes would require the amendment of not just the presidential election act but also the constitution. Helir-Valdor Seeder said that because the presidential election is less than two years away, parties could limit discussions to number of electors. He believes the Riigikogu should have clarity in this matter before the end of the ongoing session.