The leaders of the Center Party and Isamaa should grow a backbone and not allow Estonia to be torn apart simply because it serves the interests of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE), chairman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas writes.
We know that the coalition plans to bring to the Riigikogu its so-called democracy package this fall, one part of which calls for the Constitution to read that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
First of all, it needs to be recalled that §1, sub-s 1 of the Family Act already states that marriage is entered into between a man and a woman. I have not heard of anyone seeking to change that. Therefore, putting the matter up for referendum is entirely pointless as I do not know a single political force in Estonia that would want to change it. The institution of marriage is not under attack in Estonia nor does it require constitutional protection.
But despite the institution not being under siege, the ruling parties have agreed to "organize a referendum over a proposal to define marriage as being between a man and a woman on the level of the Constitution as matter of miscellaneous national issue."
Holding the marriage referendum is an element of the national conservatives' elections campaign. Its chairman Martin Helme even said that the referendum was a cornerstone of EKRE's upcoming local elections campaign at the EKRE council meeting over the weekend.
EKRE are seeking to drive a wedge in society by using this provocation and I'm saddened to find that the Center Party and Isamaa have rather irresponsibly agreed to it. I would warn the heads of Center and Isamaa now that no one except EKRE stands to gain from such strong antagonism in society.
As the government has demonstrated that constitutional expertise is not one of its strong suits, as a member of the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee, allow me to recall a few points to help avoid any embarrassing incidents.
First of all, there are three ways to amend the Constitution:
at a referendum;
by two consecutive compositions of the Riigikogu;
or by the Riigikogu in expedited process.
The latter needs a majority of four-fifths to be initiated and a two-thirds majority to pass.
If a constitutional amendment is put up for referendum and fails, the president has no choice but to declare extraordinary elections. The coalition aims to outsmart the Constitution by putting the amendment up for referendum as a miscellaneous national issue.
This is unconstitutional as the procedure for constitutional amendment is provided by the Constitution alongside the possible consequences of such a referendum.
Secondly, to put a constitutional amendment up for referendum, a three-fifths majority in the Riigikogu is required. Therefore, a constitutional amendment cannot be put up for referendum with just the coalition's votes as it would require support from 61 delegates.
Thirdly, tying such a referendum to local government council elections would cause a rift among voters because while referendums are open only to citizens, all residents can participate in local elections.
I'm sure that our eastern neighbor which has claimed mistreatment of Russians in Estonia all along would be thrilled to be able to show images of separate queues for citizens and non-citizens in Estonian polling stations.
Additionally, Vladimir Putin is likely overjoyed by Estonia's change of course and shift away from European values toward those practiced by Russia that recently held a similar referendum.
Next to the planned referendum being unconstitutional, it still remains unclear why have it in the first place. It is not a significant national matter, no one is attacking the institution of marriage and local elections have far more important topics that people really care about.
The heads of Center and Isamaa could take this opportunity to grow a backbone and not allow Estonia to be torn apart simply because it benefits one of the ruling parties. No item of a coalition agreement can be so important as to allow an unconstitutional play to split society for a long time to come.
Editor: Marcus Turovski