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The Bill on Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia for Reducing the Voting Age for Local Government Council Elections (703 SE), initiated by 41 members of the Riigikogu on 1 July 2014, was at the first reading in the Riigikogu on Tuesday. The Bill provides for amendment of subsection 156 (2) of the Constitution so that, in elections to local authority councils, the right to vote would be held, pursuant to conditions prescribed by law, by persons who reside permanently in the territory of the local authority and have attained sixteen years of age.

“Let us recall that according to the Constitution, the right to vote is held, pursuant to conditions prescribed by Local Government Council Election Act, by persons who reside permanently in the territory of the local authority and have attained eighteen years of age. The aim of the Bill is to lower the active right to vote in local government council elections from the age of 18 to 16,“ Kalvi Kõva said on behalf of the initiators of the Bill. In his comment, he explained that the local level decisions are the most important decisions in which young people wish to have their say.

The Chairman of the Constitutional Committee Rait Maruste who made a report on behalf of the Committee explained that this Bill would have to be deliberated by two Riigikogus. “The initiators of the Bill prefer to amend the Constitution by two consecutive Riigikogus, that is, by the 12th Riigikogu and the following, 13th Riigikogu during the year 2015. This proposal found tacit approval of the Committee,” Maruste said.

At the debate, the representative of the Estonian Centre Party Faction Tarmo Tamm said that there is no need to amend the Constitution in order to involve young people. “In the eyes of the law, a 16-year-old is a person with restricted active legal capacity which means that the young person is not free or independent in making all his or her decisions. At that age, a young person may get married, but only with his or her parent’s permission; the person may drive a car, but only if accompanied by an adult with at least two-year driving experience. No way to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and no admittance to casinos. How do the initiators of the Bill explain the controversy that a 16-year-old may not drive a car, but at the same time could be able to command the budget of a local government through elections?” Tamm asked.

Lauri Luik as the representative of the Reform Party Faction welcomed the fact that the Bill had reached the Riigikogu plenary hall. “For example, 24000 young people will have the possibility to have their say in the elections as to what the local life might look like in the future in their opinion. Certainly, we will have to consider the educating of young people and raising the interest of young people in democratic processes, taking the responsibility, the importance of responsibility and in a sense also the additional information on management to young people. The formation of the habit is also important, of course,” Luik said.

The representative of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction Jaak Aaviksoo pointed out the problem of the ageing population. “I think that all ageing countries face the problem of how to plan the policy of the country so that it would have a longer perspective and hold more concern for the interests of the coming generations and thereby the survival of the nation than is commonly done in countries with an ageing electorate,” Aaviksoo said. He pointed out by way of criticism that young people should be trusted and therefore the voting age should then be lowered also for the Riigikogu and European Parliament elections.

The representative of the Social Democratic Party Faction Kalev Kotkas said that the possible expansion of election propaganda to school is a clear touchstone of the maturity of the Estonian society. “At the same time, no Act, including the Constitution, regulates or manages the fears one hundred per cent; room must always be left for common sense, too,” he added.

The Riigikogu concluded the first reading of the Bill. The deadline for motions to amend is 16 October.

The Bill on Amendments to the Social Welfare Act, the Labour Market Services and Benefits Act and Other Acts (693 SE), initiated by the Government, was at the first reading which was suspended due to the end of the working hours. The Bill will transform the organisation of the rehabilitation service into an integral system including both the labour market and social sphere, and update the organisation of the technical aid service in the social sphere. The Bill forms the second part of a larger package of amendments which serves to implement the work capacity reform. The first part of the reform is planned in the Estonian law with the new Benefit for Capacity for Work Bill which will transform the current organisation of the assessment of the capacity for work and create a new system of the benefit for capacity for work for people with partial or no capacity for work.

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian).