Ilves on the election law

  • 2002-03-28
  • J. Michael Lyons

Estonia's former Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves told Latvian politicians not to fear changes to the country's election law.

Speaking at a conference on Latvia's relations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Riga on March 20, the outspoken Ilves said he doesn't expect the change in Estonia's election law - which was amended by the country's Parliament last November - to affect the legislature.

"Voters know damn well you're of no use in Parliament if you can't speak Estonian," he rasped.

Latvian politicians are currently grappling with amendments to their election law that would allow any citizen to run for office regardless of their ability to speak Latvian.

International organizations, including NATO and the OSCE, have pressured Latvia to change the law.

Several members of Parliament, including members of the ruling coalition, have resisted the changes.

Ilves was largely responsible for getting amendments that scrapped language proficiency for candidates through the Estonian Parliament.

He said he opposed the change four years ago, but changed his mind with the help of some persuasion from the OSCE.

"I came to think that I don't want these weird rules that keep us limping along as 'almost democracies,'" he said.

"I think it might be a good idea to have an IQ test for parliamentarians as well, but you just don't do that."

Estonia passed the law weeks before the OSCE mission there closed. The OSCE mission in Latvia closed earlier this year, but it has continued to call on the country to do away with the language restrictions.