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Estonia - Government

Estonia is a parliamentary democracy, with a 101-member parliament (the Riigikogu) and a president who is elected indirectly by parliament or, if no candidate wins a two-thirds majority in parliament, by an electoral college composed of members of parliament and of local councils’ representatives. Estonia holds presidential elections every 5 years. The president serves a maximum of two terms.

The President has mainly representative functions, although he still retains a number of executive powers. The President may veto a parliamentary bill and have it sent back for revision, and his signature is required when appointing the Ministers of the Government. He is also empowered to present the parliament with the names of several higher officials. The President is also the supreme commander of the armed forces.

Parliamentary elections take place every 4 years; members are elected by direct ballot in local districts and by proportional representation. A party must gather at least 5% of the votes to take a seat in parliament. Citizens 18 years of age or older may vote in parliamentary elections and be members of political parties. EU citizens who are 18 years of age or older and registered in the population register may vote in European Parliament elections and if they are registered in a local district population register, they may also vote in local elections. In addition, non-citizen long-term residents may vote in local elections, although they may not run for office.

After parliamentary elections, the president traditionally asks the party with the most votes to form a new government. The president chooses the prime minister--usually the leader of the largest party or coalition in the parliament--with the consent of the parliament to supervise the work of the government. The Estonian Government has a total of 13 ministers.

The executive power of the state – the Government – is accountable to the Riigikogu (Parliament). Appointment to the office of the Prime Minister and withdrawal of the Government lies within the competence of the Parliament. The Government also enjoys a stabilising guarantee – the right to dismiss the Riigikogu with the consent of the President and call new elections if the Riigikogu expresses no confidence in the Government. The Government (cabinet) consists of the Prime Minister and Ministers.

The President nominates the Prime Minister who then forms a Government. If the President's candidate(s) fail(s) to form a Government (the Constitution permits the President two nominations), the Riigikogu will name a Prime Minister to form a government. The Prime Minister alone nominates the ministers, who are formally appointed by the President and swear an oath before the Riigikogu. Government members do not need to be members of the Riigikogu or have any political party affiliation. However, the selection of the Prime Minister, the formation of a working Government, and the success of a legislative programme depend on co-operation with Parliament. A Government can resign due to any of three reasons: the death or resignation of the Prime Minister, a vote of no-confidence in the Government by the Riigikogu, or the election of a new parliament.

The Constitution provides for a national bank, independent of the Government, which operates as the bank of issue. It also provides for the office of the Chancellor of Justice whose task is also to be Ombudsman. The third office is that of the office of the Auditor General. The Governor of the central bank Eesti Pank, the Chancellor of Justice and the Auditor General are appointed by the parliament at the proposal of the President, but in their functioning they are independent government officials and cannot be dismissed by the parliament before serving a full term.

Estonia's Supreme Court, the Riigikohus, has 19 justices, all of whom receive lifetime tenure appointments. The parliament appoints the chief justice on nomination by the president. The court system is divided into three levels: courts of first instance (county and city courts and administrative courts), courts of appeal (circuit courts) and the Supreme Court which also functions as a constitutional court.

The legal system is based primarily on the German model, especially within the field of civil law with which it has direct historical links. The courts are independent, judges are appointed for life and may not hold any other elected or appointed public offices. The Estonian legal system is subject to international law as well as European Union law. Consequently, general principles and norms of international law and directly applicable rules of European Union law form an integral part of national legal system.

Administrative divisions include 15 counties, 33 towns and 194 rural municipalities. At the local level, Estonians elect government councils by proportional representation. The individual councils vary in size, but election laws stipulate minimum size requirements depending on the population of the municipality.

Estonians may vote via the Internet in local, Estonian parliamentary elections, and European Parliament elections. There is universal suffrage for Estonian citizens over 18 years of age. While non-citizen residents cannot vote in national elections, they can vote in local elections. All permanent residents over 18 years old, regardless of citizenship are eligible to vote in municipal elections.

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Page last modified: 06-11-2012 17:15:20 ZULU