Only one parliamentary party out of five would gain from the marriage referendum and it is to be hoped the leaders of the Center Party and Isamaa realize this, Isamaa MP Siim Kiisler says in an interview. Kiisler voting against sending the referendum bill to the floor in the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee has postponed the debate. What is he after?
Are you a rebel or just a free man?
Neither. I am an ordinary member of the Isamaa party.
You are by no means ordinary in rebelling against the coalition that promises to hold a referendum on "Whether marriage needs to remain a union between a man and a woman in Estonia?" on April 18, 2021.
I have voiced my dissenting opinion regarding an agreement that was made during one of many government crises – the one that culminated in cake deliveries – for this particular referendum question and holding it in April. It was not a sensible agreement as a way to solve the crisis.
What would have been a sensible agreement?
To cancel the referendum.
A certain phrasing of the referendum question was put to the test in last spring's coalition agreement [between the Center Party, Conservative People's Party and Isamaa]. Once it was realized that it was legally unsound, the next logical step would have been to cancel the referendum.
Did it come as a surprise to Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder when you sided with the opposition in the Constitutional Committee on Monday and voted against sending the referendum bill to the floor?
Where I stand did not come as a surprise.
What was surprising – for me and for Isamaa – is that it came up as soon as Monday as we had counted on the debate still lying in the future.
However, once the vote landed on the committee's desk, I voted in line with what I have said in the past.
Seeder has promised to temporarily replace you in the committee. Does this mean another member of the Isamaa faction will sit on the council long enough to send the bill to the floor?
That is the prerogative and right of the party and faction leadership.
We will see what will happen.
An MP represents their party and not their personal opinion when serving on a Riigikogu committee, Seeder said. Is that true?
Yes, it is a complicated situation.
It is logical and sensible for the leaders of a parliamentary group to be able to appoint committee members. If the brass wants someone else to represent the party, it is their right.
Former speaker Eiki Nestor said that committee members are appointed by the Board of the Riigikogu following proposals from factions and even though another member can sit in for appointed members during committee sittings, no one can act in the stead of a principal member if they decide to show up. An opportunity for you.
Principal members can also be changed. I have not held back what I think [of the referendum] nor do I plan to start and the faction is well within its rights to replace the principal committee member. It can also be a temporary move for a day, two days or a week.
Nestor's interpretation is inaccurate.
Is it true that because you are one of the leaders of the Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) group inside Isamaa, Seeder cannot afford to sideline you too much?
I see no direct link between these things.
Is Seeder looking to pick a fight with the Parempoolsed in public?
Seeder has been very critical of the Parempoolsed. More critical than I would expect a chairman to be regarding a group in their own party. He has not been timid so far.
However, the Parempoolsed are looking to defend representative democracy. We find that representative democracy and parliamentary administration have worked well in Estonia since we restored our independence and that we should maintain it as a value instead of dismantling it through holding random referendums.
Conservative People's Party (EKRE) representatives – for example, Helle-Moonika Helme on ERR* – have suggested that this is only the precedent and that they want to create a regular tradition of referendums in Estonia. We are certainly against it.
Are EKRE dictating government policy?
No. The government is a place of compromise, searching for and striking a balance between the interests of various parties.
However, there are some things where the Parempoolsed feel that a compromise cannot be found. Calling representative democracy into question is too much, no such agreement can be made.
"I have repeatedly said that I will do everything in my power to make sure the referendum never happens." These are your words. What else can you do?
I can vote against the decision [to hold the referendum].
It is true that I can do more as a member of the Constitutional Committee and less as an MP on the floor. But I can still be against it and try to convince my fellow Isamaa members.
Why do you believe that the aim of the referendum is simply to "pit people against each other"?
The question of whether marriage needs to remain a union between a man and a woman can only be answered "yes" or "no." If the majority votes yes, it is very likely that nothing will happen because the Family Act already prescribes that a marriage is entered into by a man and a woman. While things aren't as cut and dry should the referendum answer come back as a "no." Could it lead to the recent concept of marriage being changed…
No one can force the Riigikogu to amend a law if it doesn't feel like it.
This means that the referendum will change nothing. Everyone will still have their opinion, no legal acts or laws will be changed. However, for six months, we will have been tearing society asunder, pursuing powerful campaigns to insult and hurt people. All in a situation where we have healthcare and economic crises on our hands and people losing their jobs. But the parliament is addressing a pseudo-topic.
In other words, you agree with fellow Isamaa MP Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits: the marriage referendum is pure populism, an attempt to undermine representative democracy and a violation of the rule of law in serving as an attempt to stigmatize a minority?
I'm afraid all of those things will happen. Especially stigmatization, mutual stigmatization at that.
I'm afraid it [the referendum campaign] will be a long field day for the radicals where they can shine, enjoy being center stage and endlessly promote themselves.
The ordinary Estonian person only stands to lose. There will be conflicts in families, between colleagues and in clubs, people nursing grudges. Whereas it will have no other visible result.
When Prime Minister Jüri Ratas was authorized by the Riigikogu to form a government on April 17, 2019, he urged us to "rely on what everyone – the people of Estonia – have in common and not to emphasize differences." Would the coalition's planned marriage referendum unite or split the people of Estonia?
It would definitely split them.
"We all can and must make efforts in our political activity to alleviate the fears of our people and calm society," Ratas told the parliament a year and half ago. Would the referendum calm society and alleviate people's fears?
It would do neither. I have seen no one become calmer after this bill was introduced.
A "coherent society" has been one of the favorite expressions of the Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition. How can the marriage referendum give us a more coherent society?
I cannot see a single way for it to achieve that.
What will happen with thousands of motions to amend the Social Democratic Party (SDE) wants to use to block the referendum decision in the Riigikogu?
If they have promised to do that, I'm sure they will.
There will not be a referendum in that case?
The Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act indeed affords the option of obstructing the processing of a bill ad infinitum. Making effective use of it could cancel the referendum.
However, different ways have been sought [by the coalition] to amend the Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act or the Referendum Act, as well as other tricks with which to countermand obstruction. However, I do not believe any could be democratic or parliamentary.
Chairman of the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee Anti Poolamets (EKRE) believes that chairmen of the ruling parties clearly want to take the referendum forward. Is he correct?
The three chairmen have demonstrated willingness to move forward so far. It is no secret that at least one coalition partner's Riigikogu group – Isamaa – has members who do not support the referendum.
Do you think that Ratas and Seeder want to see the referendum take place?
You cannot see inside a person and need to proceed based on what they have said out loud.
I believe that processing the referendum bill will be a long and arduous road. People's opinions could change.
You said you cannot see inside a person, but please try.
(Laughs) You need to ask them.
(Seriously) Every political observer worth their salt understands that the referendum will only benefit one of five parliament parties. I hope the heads of Center and Isamaa also understand that.
That they would not be on the winning side were the referendum held?
This referendum can only benefit the radicals. The Estonian society and sensible political forces have nothing to gain. I regard as sensible forces four out of five Riigikogu factions.
Who's the outsider?
It's not Isamaa?
Definitely not. Isamaa is still the best political party in Estonia.
So, which of the five is not sensible?
I consider as sensible forces in the Riigikogu Isamaa, Center Party, Reform Party and SDE.
*Member of the board of EKRE Helle-Moonika Helme said on the ETV "Terevisioon" morning show on October 28: "We will definitely be holding a referendum because it is part of our democracy package where we want it to serve as a precedent. We could move on to subsequent referendums on other important national issues. For example, and if only, direct presidential elections."
Editor: Marcus Turovski