There is a movement in Estonia, which calls for constitutional reform in order to “give voting rights to children” by actually giving more votes to the parents of those children. The website of the movement is consists mostly of slogans and demagougery. It is unfortunate that the disillusion with the Estonian political sphere, which is deplorable, has lead to this instead of a real movement for change.
The movement has three ‘principles’:
- The main principle of democracy is “one person, one vote”
- A child is a citizen
- Therefore a child must have a right to vote
One can agree with the first and the second, but not the third. Not even the proponents of the idea want to do that and have toddlers selecting parliament members, they want to give extra votes to the parents or guardians of those children. That is a terrible idea.
Giving parents extra votes for having children is contrary to the principle of direct elections. In a democratic country a person can take part in the “government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives (my emphasis).” The idea of direct elections means that we can choose our representatives directly and freely. A child is unable to freely choose his or her representatives, which means that the principle of direct elections is not followed.
Why is the principle of direct elections so important? Any delegation of the right to vote to someone else is incompatible with democratic minimum standards as it can easily lead to disenfranchising parts of the society. If we give children the right of indirect voting, then this means that we could also perhaps delegate the votes of the mentally ill to their caretakers, prisoners to their families or any other group who cannot vote, but is still a citizen. None of these would even be freely chosen representatives, i.e. children could not choose which wise adult they give their vote to, it has to be the parent or guardian.
In my opinion the fact that such a movement has received quite a substantial support, even by some well-respected journalists, speaks volumes about the weakness of Estonian democracy.
The social consequences would be significant. Spouses disputing who gets to decide how to vote, children disawoving their parent for voting ‘for’ them. The childless, women who are no longer able to give birth and homosexual families are relegated to second class status, where more and more will be taken from them to support the ‘natural’ family. This kind of Estonia I do not want any part of.
Instead of giving more votes to young people, it actually takes them away from them. People tend to marry and have children later, in their late 20s and 30s, which means that the voice of the people in the age range of 18-24 is even lower as they probably do not have children yet.
Of course, the whole idea of having more children in a global world faced with serious overpopulation means that by trying to ensure the continuity of the Estonian nationality, we slightly diminish the survival chances of the entire planet. If all nations of the world adopted having more children of their nationality as the Kantian categorical imperative “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” we would end up with rapidly overpopulating the globe, making it a much much worse place to live, or potentially destroy humanity altogether. I would not wish for my children and children’s children the fate of constant war over rapidly diminishing natural resources and failing ecosystem. This kind of ‘selfish’ national thinking is dangerous.
I believe Estonia and Estonians have a bright future ahead if we are open and welcoming others among ourselves and our culture.
P.S. The campaign website also includes the homophobic statement that “men and women love each other, and out of that love children are born”, implying that two men or two women could not possibly love each other and found a family.
Here is a short overview of the international obligations of Estonia in terms of electoral law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 60th anniversary of which was recently celebrated, should be seen as one of the cornerstones of the world order today in terms of democracy and human rights. Article 21 states, that:
- Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
- Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
- The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
The same principle is reiterated within Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is in principle obligatory for all states to follow:
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is binding for Estonia, states:
Article 3 – Right to free elections
The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.
There is also the Declaration on Free and Fair Elections of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, which spells out the direct elections principle.