Voting rights of Russian citizens – Isamaa and the Reform Party would abolish it, the Social Democrats would keep it

Loora-Elisabet Lomp
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
Photo: Mihkel Maripuu
  • Läänemets: The Reform Party’s agenda is shaped by extreme nationalism imported by EKRE.
  • The total number of votes by citizens of the Russian Federation and Belarus was 30,487.
  • Danilson-Järg: they are responsible for what Russia is now doing in Ukraine.

The Reform Party would limit the right of citizens of countries which threaten Estonia's security, i.e. Russia, to elect local government councils, the ruling coalition partner Isamaa is willing to negotiate on this issue, but the Social Democrats fail to see the point of the bill.

According to the bill proposed by the Reform Party, the government could temporarily limit with its resolution for security reasons the voting rights of citizens of countries which threaten the security of Estonia. The resolution would state the justification for the restriction, the deadline and the possibility and procedure for making justified exceptions.

According to the bill, this is a preventive measure so that citizens of third countries posing a security risk would not be able to influence Estonia's national security, constitutional order and state values ​​with the right to vote in local election. “The right to vote is not just a formal right to elect somebody. The right to vote has consequences, because on the basis of the votes, a local council is formed, whose decisions include, among other things, the use of language in local schools, the protection and promotion of the Estonian language and culture in the territory of the municipality, etc.”, the draft reads.

The author of the idea of ​​the bill, Eerik-Niiles Kross (RE), told Postimees that the logic of his bill is based on the fact that the Estonian legal environment includes the measure of suspending the right to vote due to the actual security situation. “It is quite clear that we have an emergency situation. Estonia's ally is at war, and a neighboring country aggressive towards us is also at war. Russia has used issuing passports to Russian-speaking people for political purposes,” said Kross. This was the case both in Ukraine (also earlier) and, for example, in Georgia. “The consequences of granting Russian citizenship through a streamlined procedure can now be seen," he added.

The draft does not mean assessing personally whether or not someone poses a security risk – the issue is about general security.

“Discrimination is differentiating people based on inalienable characteristics. If we were to say that people of one skin color cannot [elect], or ethnic Russians, Ukrainians cannot – then it is discrimination. Right now we are talking about citizenship, which exists precisely for the purpose of differentiating between people,” said Kross. “It is not about Russians, but about the citizens of the Russian Federation, among whom there are certainly other nationalities than Russians. This does not concern Russian-speaking people with Estonian citizenship, nor gray passport holders,” he clarified.

No security risk

“Based on the security and risk analyzes that I know of, there is currently no increased security risk which would justify restricting people's right to vote in the municipal election which will be held three years from now,” Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told Postimees.

“The Social Democrats are not in favor of restricting the right of citizens to vote, especially if it is decided during a political election campaign. It is hardly a coincidence that right before the Riigikogu elections; the Reform Party offers solutions to problems whose existence we cannot even determine right now."

According to Läänemets, there are no risks arising from security assessments which would justify the preventive restriction of political freedoms of Estonia’s residents at the municipal level. “I have been warned that if we take away the residents’ opportunity to express their political opinion in a legal manner and within a controlled framework, we will instead push them underground, where it will be much more difficult to identify and monitor their opinions, activity and political undercurrents, and thus prevent risks to internal security and public order,” said the minister.

He added that this would also limit the people's political self-realization and exclude them from society – the bill would thus further deepen the already existing rifts. “This is exactly what the new big confrontation between EKRE and the Reform Party leads to, and ironically also shows how the extreme nationalism imported by EKRE shapes the Reform Party's agenda before the election. Unfortunately, political discrimination against minorities rarely goes unanswered.”

According to Läänemets, he does not understand whether the politicians think that the Internal Security Service and the Police and Border Guard Board began operating only yesterday – be it the confiscation of firearms from non-citizens who pose a security risk or deporting such people from the country.

“I assure that both institutions are constantly working to eliminate threats to our internal security and public order, doing so proactively if necessary. A good example here is the removal of the Narva tank monument, when previous risk analyzes and measures prevented major confusion and provocations which could have resulted from the removal,” Läänemets said. “Estonia's internal security is not being created only a few months before the elections and in the course of a political campaign."

Isamaa is willing to discuss

According to Justice Minister Lea Danilson-Järg (Isamaa), the bill proposed by her party, which would cancel the voting right of all citizens of third countries, is a better option. “According to this, by default, all citizens of third countries would not have the right to vote, but, for example, it could be allowed by bilateral agreements between the countries. Indeed, why shouldn't US citizens vote in local election in Estonia if the countries have agreed to it,” she explained.

At the same time, the minister confirmed that Isamaa is ready to negotiate with the Reform Party, because the primary goal of the party is to achieve as soon as possible a situation where citizens of Belarus and Russia could not vote in Estonia.

“First of all, it is a security threat to Estonia, and secondly, it does not look nice either. After all, the Riigikogu has only recently declared the Russian regime terrorist, while the citizens of the Russian Federation have gone to the Russian Embassy in Estonia to elect this regime, and thus are responsible for what is happening in the country; perhaps they are also loyal to this particular regime."

Danilson-Järg emphasized that the attitudes of Russian citizens are reflected in the ballots placed in the ballot box. “We know that more than 90 percent of citizens of the Russian Federation living in Estonia have voted for Vladimir Putin. I believe that here we must take into account that they, too, are responsible for what Russia is currently doing in Ukraine,” said the minister of justice. “If the Reform Party is willing to support its own bill, it would be wise to move forward with it and seek support for it from the other political parties in the parliament.”

A total of 30,487 citizens of Russia and Belarus voted in the previous election

A foreigner legally staying in Estonia is eligible to vote is, if they are at least 18 years old on the day of the election, have lived permanently in the territory of the relevant municipality for at least five years by January 1 of the election year, and has been entered in the national register of foreigners entitled to vote in Estonia in that municipality or city. A foreigner permanently living in the territory of a municipality is a person who stays in Estonia on the basis of a permanent residence permit and lives in the municipality’s territory for at least 183 days a year, while his absence from there may not exceed 90 days in a row.

Nearly 70,000 citizens of the Russian Federation are eligible to vote. In the previous local election (2021), 42.5 percent of them took part in voting. Almost the same percentage (42.8) was voters who were citizens of Ukraine and slightly more were citizens of Belarus (49.5 percent).

In Estonia, 587,359 people voted in the 2021 election. The total number of votes cast by citizens of the Russian Federation and Belarus was 30,487, or 5.19 percent of all votes.