Power and Responsibility
 

1. Election of the President of the Republic

An Estonian citizen by birth who has attained fourty years of age may be nominated as a candidate for President of the Republic. The President of the Republic shall be elected for a term of five years. No one shall be elected to the office of President of the Republic for more than two consecutive terms. The right to nominate a candidate for President of the Republic rests with not less than one-fifth of the membership of the Riigikogu.

According to Section 79 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, the President of the Republic shall be elected by the Riigikogu by secret ballot. Each member of the Riigikogu shall have one vote. A candidate in favour of whom a two-thirds majority of the membership of the Riigikogu votes shall be considered elected. If no candidate receives the required majority, a new round of voting shall be held on the next day. Before the second round of voting, a new nomination of candidates shall be held. If no candidate receives the required majority in the second round of voting, a third round of voting shall be held on the same day between the two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes in the second round. If the President of the Republic is still not elected in the third round of voting, the Chairman of the Riigikogu shall, within one month, convene an electoral body to elect the President of the Republic. The electoral body shall be comprised of members of the Riigikogu and representatives of the local government councils. Each local government council shall elect at least one representative to the electoral body, who must be an Estonian citizen. The Riigikogu shall present the two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes in the Riigikogu to the electoral body as candidates for President. The right to nominate a candidate for President also rests with not less than twenty-one members of the electoral body. The electoral body shall elect the President of the Republic by a majority of the voting electoral body members. If no candidate is elected in the first round, a second round of voting shall be held on the same day between the two candidates who receive the greatest number of votes.

The specific procedure for the election of the President of the Republic shall be provided by the President of the Republic Election Act.

2. Assuming office, legal status, and termination of powers

The President of the Republic shall assume office by swearing the following oath of office to the people of Estonia before the Riigikogu: "In assuming the office of President of the Republic, I (given name and surname), solemnly swear to steadfastly defend the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Estonia, to exercise the power entrusted to me in a just and impartial manner, and to faithfully perform my duties with all of my abilities and to the best of my under-standing, for the benefit of the people of Estonia and the Republic of Estonia."

Upon assuming office, the authority and duties of the President of the Republic in all elected and appointed offices shall terminate, and he or she shall suspend his membership in political parties for the duration of his term of office.

The President of the Republic enjoys immunity in accordance with Section 85 of the Constitution. Criminal charges may be brought against the President of the Republic only on the proposal of the Legal Chancellor, and with the consent of the majority of the membership of the Riigikogu. The specific procedure for bringing charges against the President of the Republic shall be provided by the Institution of Court Proceedings against the President of the Republic and Members of the Government Act.

The powers of the President of the Republic shall terminate upon his resignation from office (not applicable during a state of emergency or a state of war), the entry into force of a conviction by a court against him or her, his death, and the assumption of office of the new President of the Republic.

If the President of the Republic is incapable of performing his duties for an extended period as decided by the Supreme Court, or if he or she is temporarily unable to perform them as in the cases specified by law, then his duties shall temporarily transfer to the Chairman of the Riigikogu. During the time that the Chairman of the Riigikogu is performing the duties of the President of the Republic, his authority as a member of the Riigikogu shall be suspended. The Chairman of the Riigikogu, acting as President of the Republic, has a more restricted competence, as he does not have the right, without the consent of the Supreme Court, to declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu or to refuse to proclaim laws.

If the President of the Republic is unable to perform his official duties for longer than three consecutive months, or if his powers terminate prematurely, the Riigikogu shall elect a new President of the Republic within fourteen days.

3. Role of the President of the Republic

The competence of the President of the Republic as Head of State is provided by Section 78 of the Constitution and more specifically by other relevant legal acts.

3.1. Role in international relations

President of the Republic represents the Republic of Estonia in international relations. Proceeding from the fact that the Government of the Republic organises relations with other states, the President of the Republic co-ordinates his activities with the Government.

The President of the Republic shall appoint and recall diplomatic agents of the Republic of Estonia, on the proposal of the Government of the Republic, and receive the credentials of diplomatic agents accredited to Estonia. In concluding international treaties, it is the competence of the President of the Republic to ratify or denounce treaties, i.e. to sign them after they have been approved by the Riigikogu. According to Section 121 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, such treaties are those, which alter state boundaries; the implementation of which requires the passage, amendment or repeal of Estonian laws; those by which the Republic of Estonia joins international organisations or unions; those by which the Republic of Estonia assumes military or proprietary obligations; and those in which ratification is prescribed. The President’s sole competence in foreign relations is declaring a state of war and proceeding therefrom, also the end of the war, in the case of aggression against Estonia, as well as making the proposal to the Riigikogu to declare a state of war, to order mobilisation or demobilisation, and a state of emergency.

On the proposal of the Government of the Republic the President confers diplomatic ranks that are conferred for life.

The President’s role, as well as his relations with other constitutional institutions are set down more specifically in the Foreign Relations Act and the Foreign Service Act.

3.2. The President’s Role in Domestic Affairs
3.2.1. Role in National Defence

President of the Republic is the supreme commander of national defence. He has the specific task to make the proposal to the Riigikogu to declare a state of war, mobilisation and demobilisation, as well as to end the state of war. In enacting his competence in national defence, the President is assisted by the National Defence Council, which acts as an advisory body to the President and consists, as provided by law, of the Chairman of the Riigikogu, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the National Defence Committee of the Riigikogu, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Commander (in wartime the Commander-in-Chief) of the defence forces.

The President of the Republic shall, on the proposal of the Government of the Republic and the Commander of the defence forces, appoint and release from office the leadership of the defence forces consisting of the Commander of the General Staff of the Defence Forces, the commander of the Defence League and the commanders of air, land and naval forces. The President of the Republic as the Supreme Commander of the defence forces shall, on the proposal of the Commander of the defence forces, issue orders for conferring officers’ ranks and for the temporary substitution of the Commander of the defence forces.

The competence of the President of the Republic in the field of national defence shall be specified by the Peacetime National Defence Act, the Wartime National Defence Act, and the Emergencies Act.

3.2.2. Role in relation to the Riigikogu

The President and the Riigikogu are connected by several formal and substantive competences of the President. The President of the Republic declares the regular elections to the Riigikogu, convenes and opens the first session of the Riigikogu. The President has the right to convene additional and extraordinary sessions of the Riigikogu in cases as stated by law.

In cases provided in the Constitution, the President of the Republic shall dissolve the Riigikogu and declare the extraordinary elections of the Riigikogu. The President of the Republic shall declare the extraordinary elections of the Riigikogu after the Prime Minister candidate designated by the President has two times failed to form a government, and the Riigikogu has presented its own candidate, who has in his turn failed to present his government membership to the President. The President shall also declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu if a referendum initiated by the Riigikogu does not receive a majority of votes in favour. The powers of the Riigikogu terminate prematurely also if the Riigikogu has not passed the state budget within two months after the beginning of the budgetary year; also in this case the President of the Republic shall declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu.

The third reason for terminating the powers of the Riigikogu differs from the first two, as here the President of the Republic has to decide whether to declare the extraordinary elections of the Riigikogu or not. The President may declare extraordinary elections also in case of the expression of no confidence in the Government of the Republic or the Prime Minister by the Riigikogu.

The relations between the President and the Riigikogu are specified in The Riigikogu Procedure Act.

3.2.3. Role in relation to the Government of the Republic

President of the Republic designates the Prime Minister candidate, to whom he assigns the task of forming the Government. The Prime Minister candidate, who has been authorised by the Riigikogu to form the Government, presents the membership of the government to the president of the Republic, who shall appoint the government to office. The President shall make changes to the appointed membership of the Government of the Republic i.e. release and appoint ministers, on the proposal of the Prime Minister.

The relations between the Government of the Republic and the President of the Republic are specified in the Government of the Republic Act.

3.2.4. Responsibility on legislation

The President of the Republic shall proclaim the laws passed in the Riigikogu. This is the sole competence of the President of the Republic in which no other constitutional institution is involved. The President of the Republic may also refuse to proclaim a law passed by the Riigikogu and return it together with his reasoned resolution to the Riigikogu for a new debate and decision. The President has the right to control both the provisions of substantive and procedural law. If the Riigikogu again passes the law, which is returned to it by the President of the Republic, unamended, the President of the Republic shall proclaim the law or shall propose to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court declares the law constitutional, the President of the Republic shall proclaim the law. During the term of office of the VII and the VIII Riigikogu the President of the Republic has refused to proclaim 35 laws, and turned to the Supreme Court on 8 cases. The Supreme Court decided in favour of the Head of State on 7 cases.

If the Riigikogu is unable to convene in a situation of emergency, the President of the Republic may, in matters of urgent state need, issue decrees which have the force of law, and which shall bear the counter-signatures of the Chairman of the Riigikogu and the Prime Minister. These decrees can not be used to amend the Constitution or the so-called constitutional laws (see Section 104 of the Constitution). The Riigikogu shall pass a law for the confirmation or repeal of these decrees on the next meeting. Thus, the decrees are a specific measure for maintaining governmental order, and in this case the President is acting as the guarantor of rule of the law in the state.

According to the Constitution, President of the Republic does not have the right to initiate laws, with the exception of amendments of the Constitution.

3.2.5 Responsibility on the appointment and release of the public servants

The Head of State designates the Prime Minister Candidate, whom the Riigikogu shall authorise to form the Government of the Republic. He or she appoints and releases members of the Government on the proposal of the Prime Minister, President of the Bank of Estonia on the proposal of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, county and city justices, administrative justices and circuit justices (i.e. the justices of I and II level) on the proposal of the Supreme Court, and the leadership of the defence forces on the proposal of the Government and the Commander of the defence forces. Being appointed by the President has several favourable effects, such as giving certain social respect to the public servant, enabling control over the legality of the appointment, providing more publicity to the appointment and certain stability for the public servant.

The President shall make proposals to the Riigikogu for the appointment of the following senior public servants: Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, Auditor General, Legal Chancellor, and Commander or (in wartime) Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces.

3.2.6. Responsibility on decorations

Conferring state decorations is the sole competence of the President of the Republic, and he is assisted by the Committee of Decorations as an advisory body. It is a common practice in the world that the Head of State confers state decorations.

The state decorations of the Republic of Estonia, as well as the procedures for applying for decorations and conferring decorations are provided by the Decorations Act.

3.2.7. The President’s right of clemency

The President has the sole right to release or grant commutation to convicted offenders at their request by way of clemency. Clemency presumes that the court has already pronounced the convicting sentence and the individual in question has been transferred to the executive bodies for the enactment of penalty. It is an international tradition that the Head of State may use his free will to enact justice after the court has guaranteed the enactment of law.

3.2.8. Criminal charges against the Legal Chancellor

The President makes the proposal to bring criminal charges against the legal chancellor. The President shall make the proposal to the Riigikogu on the application of the public prosecutor. He or she has the right to study the documents relevant to the case.

The President’s role is provided in the Bringing Criminal Charges against a Member of the Riigikogu, Auditor General, Legal Chancellor, Chairman of the Supreme Court and a Member of the Supreme Court Act.

4. Benefits related to office of the President

The benefits related to the office of the President of the Republic are the President’s salary and other advantages of the individual who has been elected President. The benefits related to the office are provided by the Benefits Related to the Office of the President of the Republic Act.

The President’s salary rate equals the double of the highest salary rate in the public servants’ salary scale, which is established annually by the State budget. In 1999, the respective rate was 12,500 EEK and the President’s salary thus 25,000 EEK. Besides that, the President receives representation allowance to cover his representational costs, in the amount of 20% of his salary.

During his term as the President of the Republic, the President has the right to use the official apartment, the office car and chauffeur services. He is entitled to a holiday of 35 days a year. The President himself shall decide the time and duration of his holiday. The President’s salary is maintained during the holiday. During his term of office as the President, he or she is protected by police (a security service).

After the termination of his powers as the President, the President shall receive a pension in the amount of 75% of the current rate of the President’ salary. If the President has completely lost the capacity for work during his powers as the President, the pension shall be increased by 25%. In case of the President’s death, also his family members incapacitated for work and his spouse are entitled to survivor’s pension. The pension of the President’s family member is one quarter of the President’s pension.

After the termination of his powers as the President, the President is entitled to office space (the rent and stationary expenses shall be paid by the State), to a secretary at his disposal, to a single benefit in the amount of his one year’s salary and to the office car and chauffeur services. If necessary, the Prime Minister shall arrange protection for him.

 

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