Today, ODIHR released its final report of the EAM to Estonia. Aside of looking at national minority issues, it has been the second time that the Internet voting process in Estonia was focus of the assessment. Download the full report here.
In line with OSCE commitments, the Minister of Foreign of Affairs of Estonia invited the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) to observe the 6 March 2011 elections to the Riigikogu (Parliament). Based on the recommendation of a Needs Assessment Mission, the OSCE/ODIHR deployed an Election Assessment Mission (EAM) for these elections.
The Riigikogu elections were conducted in an environment characterized by respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and a high degree of trust in the impartiality of the election administration. Election stakeholders expressed confidence in the overall process, including the Internet voting. Voters had an opportunity to make an informed choice among a field of candidates representing a variety of political alternatives.
The legal framework generally provides an adequate legal basis for the conduct of democratic elections in accordance with OSCE commitments and other international standards, although it is of concern that large parts of the Internet voting remain unregulated. The legislative framework for complaints and appeals is generally adequate for resolving electoral disputes in
line with international standards. While citizenship is recognized as an admissible restriction to suffrage, in particular for elections for national office, it is of concern that a significant group of long-term residents with undetermined citizenship, amounting to some seven per cent of the total population, do not have the right to vote or stand as candidates in national elections. They can however vote, but
not stand as candidates, at local elections.
OSCE/ODIHR EAM interlocutors in general expressed a high level of confidence in the professionalism, efficiency and transparency of the election administration. While the Election Act provides for a wide range of voting methods, the procedures put in place to prevent multiple voting generally provide for effective safeguards.
Voters could cast their ballots via the Internet during the advance voting period from 24 February to 2 March. Despite concerns raised by some interlocutors, the OSCE/ODIHR EAM in general found widespread trust in the conduct of the Internet voting by the National Electoral Committee (NEC). However, there is scope for further improvement of the legal framework, oversight and accountability, and some technical aspects of the Internet voting system.
The campaign took place in a calm atmosphere, and all contestants were able to campaign freely. Prohibition of the outdoor political advertising remained in place. In some instances, activities of the local governments blurred the distinction between the state and the governing party at local level or were perceived as advantaging one of the electoral contestants.
A new Committee on Monitoring the Funding of Political Parties was constituted after the elections, charged with monitoring contenders’ compliance with regulations on campaign finance. Some OSCE/ODIHR EAM interlocutors expressed regret that the Penal Code no longer prescribes criminal liability for receipt of illegal donations.
The media environment is diverse and provided voters with a range of viewpoints through informative and inclusive broadcast debates and coverage in the Internet. However, there is a lack of an autonomous regulatory authority able to set clear rules on campaign coverage and monitor media compliance with the rules.
There are neither legal barriers to the participation of women in political life nor legal provisions to encourage it. Women’s participation in political life is relatively low. No political party was led by a woman and only 20 out of 101 elected MPs are women, down from the 24 in the outgoing Riigikogu.
Issues related to national minorities did not feature prominently in the campaign. Political parties made varying degrees of effort to include persons belonging to national minorities on their candidate lists and to reach out to Russian-speaking voters. Despite some provision of election information in Russian, weak Estonian language skills may present an obstacle to national minorities’ participation in the electoral process.
Few formal complaints were filed before the NEC or the Supreme Court concerned, inter alia, disenfranchisement of the convicted prisoners and alleged lack of reliability, secrecy and security of the Internet voting. All complaints were rejected as being ungrounded or for not being filed within the deadline.
In accordance with the OSCE/ODIHR methodology, the OSCE/ODIHR EAM did not include short-term election observers and did not conduct a comprehensive and systematic observation of election-day proceedings. However, mission members visited a limited number of polling stations on election day. Voting in the limited number of polling stations visited proceeded in a calm manner. The election committees in general worked efficiently and followed the procedures. The vote count was for the most part conducted in an efficient, orderly and
transparent manner. Voter turnout was recorded at 63.5 percent.
A number of recommendations in this report set out ways in which the electoral process may be further improved. The OSCE/ODIHR stands ready to work with the Estonian authorities to address these recommendations.