9 - chapter

Right to free elections

Author: Egert Rünne

Political and institutional developments

In the reporting period the 2016 local government council elections took place in Estonia.

In 1993 there were 254 rural municipalities and towns in Estonia, since then the number of local authorities has gradually decreased. At 2013 elections the memberships of 215 local authorities were elected, in 2017 elections there were 79 local authorities.[1]

The number of local authorities shrank in two years primarily because of the Administrative Reform, where local authorities with populations smaller than 5000 had to merge. Local authorities that did not merge voluntarily were merged on the order of the Government of the Republic[2] and the Supreme Court allowed none of the appeals against merging of local authorities, therefore also all of the forced mergers took place.

Legislative developments

The Estonian Human Rights Centre has advised the Riigikogu to consider whether banning political outdoor advertising during the campaigning period is reasonable and purposeful in several of its reports. In 2017 the Chancellor of Justice also came to this point of view. In her analysis the Chancellor of Justice came to the conclusion that some of the rules on election advertising no longer fulfil their purpose and create needless additional strain on the police. Additionally, the election campaign has partly moved onto the internet, including the social media, which makes enforcing some of the rules virtually impossible.[3] The Chancellor of Justice advised Riigikogu to consider removing the ban on political outdoor advertising during period of active campaigning, as it does not fulfil its purpose, she also recommended removing the ban on active campaigning on the day of the election.

The Chancellor of Justice also made proposals for making funding of election campaigns more transparent and subject to greater scrutiny. Chancellor of Justice made the proposal to give Political Parties’ Financing Surveillance Committee greater powers (give them the right to access funding sources of political parties, increase their right to access various documents, including from third parties). The unconstitutional side-effect of donations’ ban from legal persons, which limits freedom of expression of NGOs and the private press, should also be removed. In the name of increasing transparency of funding of political powers, the citizens’ associations that have supported politicians should have the obligation to disclose information about financing sources to monitoring authorities (the Political Parties Act states that only political parties, election coalitions and persons who have run as candidates on their list and independent candidates must provide this information).

Court practice

The Constitutional Review Chamber found in its 18 May 2017 decision[4] that the name of the candidate or the political party, the contact information, trademark, domain name or field of activity exposed outdoors during the election campaign ban is not political outdoor advertising, unlike, for example, election promises. That is why the Supreme Court was unable to solve the question of constitutionality of political outdoor advertising in this court case.

The Supreme Court also discussed the issue of expenses made by legal persons governed by public law for the purpose of promoting and advertising politicians. The Administrative Law Chamber found in its 10 November 2016 judgment[5] that departing local government’s messages using the members of the political party currently in power and running in elections in the pre-election period probably influenced voters in making their decisions. Therefore, this could not have been considered customary notification, but election campaign, where one candidate was placed in a more favourable position than others using public means. The Supreme Court was of the opinion that in allowing such situations there is the danger that public means are used for carrying out election campaigns under the banner of carrying out awareness-raising campaigns.

Statistics and surveys

In 2017 58% of persons possessing the right to vote took part in the local government council elections, whereas 42.1% of people voted at advance polls (in 2013 this portion had been 35.7%). The total number of candidates was 14,784 with 60% of them men and 40% women.

68.9% of those elected were men and 31.1% women,[6] the percentage of women running as candidates and becoming elected has never been this high.

Good practices

Since 2009 the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations[7] has invited all of the persons running for representative bodies to follow the good election practice so that campaigns have substance, are ethical, and help voters make smart decisions. Along with voluntary Guardians of Good Conduct the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations observes and comments on keeping to the election practice. The Guardians of Good Conduct have garnered positive media response and created a platform for discussion, therefore, this is a sustainable activity, which has increased people’s awareness of empty and unethical campaign elements.

In relation to the fact that in 2017 the 16 and 17-year-olds first had the right to vote in elections Eesti Noorteühenduste Liit in association with Eesti Õpilasesinduste Liit, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations initiated in the election year the project of “Noored valimisvalvurid” (young election guardians).

The Project “Noored valimisvalvurid” guides young people to participate in the work of their local (whether in towns or rural municipalities) electoral committee, try out the role of an official election observer, or participate in activities of election guardians. The first results show that the voter turnout among young people was extremely low (only 7.4% of the election group took part in e-voting),[8] therefore such initiatives should also be carried out in the following election periods.

Noteworthy public discussions

The topic of ban on political outdoor advertising was actively picked up after the interview of the Police and Boarder Guard Board to the news programme “Aktuaalne Kaamera”, where the police claimed that according to the interpretation political outdoor advertising also includes portraits and election slogans of candidates published on social media. The Police and Boarder Guard expert said that according to the act of law the outdoor advertising is banned during the active campaign period and the politicians should delete election propaganda from Facebook.[9]

On the same day the Estonian Human Rights Centre issued a press release stating that interference of law enforcement authorities in free elections in a way that breaches and endangers the right to vote just before elections take place is not in accordance with a democratic regime. Within hours the police also changed their point of view and announced that the ban on outdoor advertising does not extend to social media.[10]

On September 5th, 2017, the Information System Authority (RIA) announced at a press conference that the ID-card used for internet voting has a detected security risk. It was mentioned at the press conference that the security risk is a theoretical one and that the National Electoral Committee would decide whether e-elections take place.[11] Already a day later, on September 6th, the National Electoral Committee decided that e-voting at municipal elections will take place according to law and to plan.[12] The chairman of the National Electoral Committee Meelis Eerik said that the main argument for going ahead with e-voting according to law is the fact that not a single actual security fault was found, and everything concerning the ID-card’s chip is hypothetical.

The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) then submitted a complaint with the Supreme Court demanding annulment of e-voting;[13] the court did not allow the complaint. The Supreme Court found that they had no reason to doubt the adequacy of information gathered by the National Electoral Committee and the appraisal given to the security of electronic voting.[14]

Recommendations

  • Amend the relevant acts of law so that only prisoners bearing an additional punishment of not being allowed to vote are banned from voting.
  • Consider whether banning political outdoor advertising during the campaigning period is reasonable and purposeful.

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[1] Valimisringkonnad ning volikogude suurused KOV 2017 [Electoral districts and sizes of municipal councils. Municipal elections 2017]. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/kohalikud-valimised-2017/valimisringkonnad-ning-volikogude-suurused-kov-2017

[2] Ministry of Finance. Vabariigi Valitsuse algatatud ühinemised [Mergers initiated by the Government of the Republic]. Available at: https://haldusreform.fin.ee/vv-algatatud-uhinemised/

[3] Chancellor of Justice. 16.11.2017. Report to the Riigikogu. Valimiskampaaniate rahastamise ning reklaami regulatsiooni ajakohasus ja põhiseaduspärasus [Funding of election campaigns and timeliness and constitutionality of advertising regulation]. Available at: http://www.oiguskantsler.ee/sites/default/files/field_document2/Valimiskampaaniate%20rahastamise%20ning%20reklaami%20regulatsiooni%20ajakohasus%20ja%20põhiseaduspärasusest_0.pdf

[4] Constitutional Review Chamber. 18.05.2017. Judgment in case no 3-4-1-3-17. Available at: https://rikos.rik.ee/?asjaNr=3-4-1-3-17

[5] Administrative Law Chamber. 10.11.2016. Judgment in case no 3-3-1-50-16. Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/lahendid?asjaNr=3-3-1-50-16

[6] Toimunud kohaliku omavalitsuse volikogu valimised [Local Government Council Elections that have taken place]. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/valimiste-arhiiv/toimunud-kohaliku-omavalitsuse-volikogu-valimised

[7] Valimiste valvurid [Election guardians]. Available at: https://heakodanik.ee/valimiste-valvurid/

[8] Pihlak, A. 22.10.2017. „Alaealised andsid keskmisest kaks korda vähem e-hääli, kas sellest saab teha järeldusi nende valimisaktiivsusest?“ [Minors gave half as many e-votes as the average, can conclusions be made regarding their voting activity?]. Delfi. Available at: http://www.delfi.ee/news/kov2017/uudised/alaealised-andsid-keskmisest-kaks-korda-vahem-e-haali-kas-sellest-saab-teha-jareldusi-nende-valimisaktiivsusest?id=79867622

[9] Raiste, A. 13.09.2017. „Välireklaami keelu ajal tuleks ka Facebookist valimispropaganda kustutada“ [Election propaganda should also be deleted from Facebook during campaign ban period]. ERR. Available at: http://www.err.ee/618438/valireklaami-keelu-ajal-tuleks-ka-facebookist-valimispropaganda-kustutada

[10] Luts, P. (ed.). 14.09.2017. „Politsei leebus: välireklaami keeld ei laiene sotsiaalmeediale“ [Police relented: the ban on outdoor advertising does not extend to social media]. Available at: http://www.err.ee/618512/politsei-leebus-valireklaami-keeld-ei-laiene-sotsiaalmeediale

[11] Velsker, L. 05.09.2017. „ID-kaardi kiibis avastati teoreetiline turvarisk“ [Theoretical security risk discovered in ID-card’s chip]. Postimees. Available at: https://tehnika.postimees.ee/4233255/id-kaardi-kiibis-avastati-teoreetiline-turvarisk

[12] Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon: e-hääletamine toimub [National Electoral Committee: e-voting will take place]. 06.09.2017. Available at: https://www.valimised.ee/et/uudised/vabariigi-valimiskomisjon-e-hääletamine-toimub

[13] Einmann, A. 12.09.2017. „Valimiskomisjon saatis EKRE e-hääletuse kaebuse riigikohtusse“ [Electoral Committee sent EKRE’s e-voting complaint to the Supreme Court]. Postimees. Available at: https://poliitika.postimees.ee/4240715/valimiskomisjon-saatis-ekre-e-haaletuse-kaebuse-riigikohtusse

[14] Talvik, M. 21.09.2017. „Riigikohus ei rahuldanud EKRE kaebust valimiskomisjoni otsusele“ [Supreme Court did not satisfy EKRE’s complaint about decision of National Electoral Committee]. Available at: https://www.riigikohus.ee/et/uudiste-arhiiv/riigikohus-ei-rahuldanud-ekre-kaebust-valimiskomisjoni-otsusele


Author

  • Egert Rünnel on omandatud bakalaureusekraad rahvusvaheliste suhete alal ning magistrikraad riigiteadustes. Egert on töötanud Eesti Inimõiguste Keskuses alates 2011. aastast ning läbi viinud erinevaid projekte ühiskonna inimõigustealase teadlikkuse tõstmiseks. Samuti on Egert aastatel 2011–2015 olnud Tallinna Tehnikaülikoolis uuringute spetsialist.

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