Kari Käsper

Political developments

Estonia held Parliamentary elections in 2011. These were the second parliamentary elections in Estonia where voting could be conducted via the internet. The elections passed without major problems and can be considered to be in accordance with general international requirements. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) compiled a report on the elections.[1] According to the report the elections had been professional, effective and transparent.

Even though there are generally no problems with taking part in elections, there are still two groups of people who cannot participate in parliamentary elections in Estonia. One group is made up of stateless persons who are long term residents (another term used in Estonia is ‘a person of undetermined citizenship’). The make up roughly 7% of the population. The stateless persons who are long term residents can vote in local government elections, but cannot be held up as candidates. ODIHR also reports on the fact that stateless persons are prohibited from joining political parties. Such prohibition contradicts international regulations on human rights.[2]

The other group who cannot vote in elections consists of prisoners. Restriction of prisoners’ right to vote contradicts European human rights regulations. This topic was already handled with in detail in the previous human rights report “Human Rights in Estonia 2010” and 2011 did not bring any changes in this area. The ODIHR report states that 1416 persons were removed from the list of persons who were eligible to vote at the parliamentary elections of 2011 due to serving a prison service. The adviser at the legal and analysis department of Chancellery of the Riigikogu Katre Turbo concedes that “in Estonia, like in Great Britain, solving this problem has been deferred for a long time, even though it should be clear that this cannot be done indefinitely.”[3]

Legislative developments

The amendment of regulation on funding political parties constituted an important change in the organisation of elections. A committee consisting of representatives of parties in Riigikogu, the National Audit Office, Chancellor of Justice and of the National Electoral Committee was formed to monitor the funding of political parties. Election expenditures of the parties and the independent candidates, and the transparency and lawfulness of financial sources have always been an issue. The National Electoral Committee and other Constitutional institutions have so far been reluctant of getting involved in this topic in order to avoid accusations of pursuing an agenda of one or another political party.[4] This is why a suitable committee was formed with Riigikogu. The committee has the right to request supplementary documents, to make prescriptions and determine penalty payments.[5]

The committee, having started work in November of 2011, made a proposal to specify the provisions on monitoring financing of political parties, particularly concerning the reporting of financing.[6]

The committee considers it important to provide a new content to the chapter on funding of political parties in the Political Parties Act.

Court practice

The court decisions concerning elections primarily have to do with the opportunity to vote electronically at the 2011 Riigikogu elections. According to the appeal submitted with the Supreme Court by Paavo Pihelgas, a third party could install a surveillance software in the voters’ computers to determine the person of the voter and the vote he has given; therefore, the voter cannot be sure that a third party is not recording his decision. The technical solution of e-election also allegedly enables a virus to alter the results of voting in an undetectable manner, and the mistake cannot be rectified. The Supreme Court disallowed the appeal because the appellant had knowingly put himself in a situation where his electronic vote might not have reached the National Electoral Committee. The hypothetical possibility that the results of e-elections can be influenced was not sufficient to abrogate the election results.[7]

Henn Põlluaas, an independent candidate submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting abrogation of the e-election results as not all voters in electoral district no. 3 (in Mustamäe and Nõmme) were able to vote for him in electronic elections due to technical reasons. The National Electoral Committee confirmed that: “in the letter of 2 March 2011 that the programme used for elections has a problem with operating system Windows 7 using certain resolutions and fonts, which renders the names of candidates only partially visible on the computer screen – the names of independent candidates at the end of the list (in electoral district no. 3 H. Põlluaas and R. Nurmik) remained hidden.”
The Supreme Court disallowed the appeal due to exceeding the time-limit of proceedings, but noted that “it is the obligation of the state to guarantee the compatibility of the software used at elections with the prevalent hardware, operating systems, screen resolutions or fonts.” The court also claimed that “if the technical problems occurring at e-elections cannot be resolved in singular instances, the voter has the option of voting with a ballot paper.”[8] It is not apparent from the interpretation of the court what the obligation of the National Electoral Committee is in practice regarding guaranteeing compatibility with hardware and operating systems that may be used for voting.

The Estonian Centre Party submitted an appeal of its own against the National Electoral Committee, which essentially repeated the aforementioned appeals. The Supreme Court disallowed the Centre Party’s appeal.[9]

Statistics and surveys

The legal and analysis department of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu published two summarising papers on the topic of elections in 2011. The first one was on the subject of electronic voting.[10] It conceded that Estonia is so far the only state that has implemented electronic voting that is binding as to the results. The second summarising paper was on the topic of implementing gender quotas at parliamentary elections.[11] The paper analyses gender quotas all over the world, sets out the for and against arguments, and concludes that even though all parliaments in the world have a majority of men, some of them have “still managed to adopt acts establishing gender quotas, which thereby attempt greater inclusion of women,”[12] although these developments have been preceded by years of discussion.

The National Electoral Committee has published statistics regarding the presidential elections of 2011 on its website.[13] It stems from the statistics that there has been a certain regress regarding representation of women in Riigikogu. 24 women were elected at the elections of 2007 compared to just 20 in 2011. The largest percentage of women were elected among the Centre Party candidates (approximately 26.9% of the elected candidates), the smallest percentage among the Reform Party candidates (15.2% of the elected candidates).

Good practices

The option of electronic voting is one of the success stories of Estonian technology. 140,846 persons made use of the option to vote over the internet at the 2011 Riigikogu elections, which amounts to 15.4% of all the voters.[14] Even though the organisation of e-elections has been criticised[15] and contested, neither the Chancellor of Justice nor the Supreme Court have detected a breach of the Constitution in organisation of the e-elections. The ODIHR report on the 2011 Riigikogu elections points out that electronic voting ought to be regulated better, and the monitoring needs to be enhanced, as well as the liability and certain technical aspects.[16]

Essential public discussions

A large portion of the debate on right to vote concerned e-elections, but also funding of the political parties. Electronic elections have been criticised mainly on the initiative of the Centre Party and the Tallinn City Government, which is ruled by the Centre Party, as well as in publications. At the end of the year the discussion centred around the so-called foundations for developing democracy that were intended to be established with the political parties, which would be funded from the state budget, and for which 900,000 euros had already been procured via the budget of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[17]


  • Remove the blanket ban of participating in elections of persons serving prison sentences.
  • Continue the discussion for increasing transparency of funding of political parties and for increasing the efficiency of monitoring.
  • Continue the work on specifying the legislative regulations on electronic elections and guarantee independent monitoring of e-elections.
  • Pay more attention to percentage of women in parties’ lists of candidates, starting with voluntary measures on the party level.

[1] OSCE/ODIHR Estonia. Parliamentary Elections. 6 March 2011. OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission Report. Availabile at: http://www.osce.org/odihr/77557.

[2] OSCE/ODIHR Estonia. Parliamentary Elections.

[3] Turbo, Katre (2011). „Vangide valimisõigusest“ [On prisoners’ right to vote]. RiTo [the Journal of the Estonian Parliament] 23. Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/rito/index.php?id=14442&op=archive2.

[4] See for example „Madise: valimiskomisjonil ei ole erakondade rahastamise kontrolliks piisavaid volitusi“ [Madise: National Electoral Committee does not have sufficient jurisdiction to monitor the parties’ funding]. Postimees.ee. 29.12.2009 Available at: http://www.postimees.ee/205843/madise-valimiskomisjonil-ei-ole-erakondade-rahastamise-kontrolliks-piisavaid-volitusi/.

[5] Erakonnaseaduse muutmise ja sellega seonduvalt teiste seaduste muutmise seadus [The act amending the Political Parties Act and other acts concerned]. RT I, 10.12.2010, 1.

[6] Erakondade rahastamise järelevalve komisjon. Kiri. [The committee monitoring funding of parties. Letter] Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/public/ERJK/2011.11.11_EKS_muutmisettepanekud.pdf.

[7] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in case no. 3-4-1-4-11 (21.03.2011).

[8] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in case no. 3-4-1-6-11 (23.03.2011).

[9] Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court judgment in case no. 3-4-10-11 (31.03.2011).

[10] Sillajõe, Siiri. Elektrooniline hääletamine valimistel [Electronic voting in elections]. Teemaleht no. 3 / 28.04.2011. Riigikogu kantselei õigus- ja analüüsiosakond. Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/doc.php?87072.

[11] Väli, Mari. Sookvootide rakendamisest parlamendivalimistel [Application of gender quotas at parliamentary elections]. Teemaleht no. 4 /05.05.2011. Riigikogu kantselei õigus- ja analüüsiosakond. Available at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/doc.php?87072.

[12] Väli.

[13] National Electoral Committee. Riigikogu valimised 2011 statistika [Statistics about 2011 Riigikogu elections]. Available at: http://www.vvk.ee/riigikogu-valimised-2011/statistika-2011/.

[14] National Electoral Committee. Riigikogu valimised 2011 statistika. Elektroonilise hääletamise statistika. [Statistics about 2011 Riigikogu elections. Statistics about electronic voting.] Available at: http://www.vvk.ee/riigikogu-valimised-2011/statistika-2011/.

[15] The criticism can be found of the website veebisait www.evalimised.net.

[16] OSCE/ODIHR Estonia. Parliamentary Elections.

[17] A summary of developments on the topic of foundation for developing democracy can be found on the website www.ngo.ee/dasa.