Opposition parties table over 9,000 amendments to marriage referendum bill

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Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The two opposition parties, Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE) have between them tabled over 9,000 amendments to a bill which would initiate a national referendum on the definition of marriage next April.

Reform's leader Kaja Kallas said: "Since our goal is to prevent this planned referendum, which is at the same time meaningless, ridiculous and cruel, we have prepared nearly 3,500 amendments."

The deadline for receiving the amendments at the Riigikogu is 5 p.m. Wednesday (see gallery below).

Kallas said the amendments mostly concerned phrasing of the question, currently a straight yes-no poll on whether marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman in legislation, with many alternative questions suggested instead.

Some of the questions posed as amendments to the referendum bill ask about issues such as euthanasia, working hours, regional policy, fur farms, surrogate mothers, forestry and cycling on sidewalks, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Kallas: Meaningless referendum

Kallas said: "The Reform Party Riigikogu group has 34 MPs, and each one thought of nearly a hundred questions which could be asked of the people instead. If we consider that the question being asked is meaningless, then other questions could be asked instead, but the purpose is to prevent this referendum."

Issuing a large number of amendments to a bill has been used as a filibustering tactic by opposition parties in the recent past.

Kallas added that the amendments cannot be linked to one another, hence all of Reform's Riigikogu contingent being dragooned into the process.

Kallas added that Riigikogu procedures require each MP's amendments to be heard individually, hence using this formula.

Reform will submit its amendments to the Riigikogu's constitutional committee an hour earlier than the deadline, and the time at which the committee meets to address the bill, i.e. at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

SDE tables a further 5,800 bill change proposals

SDE, which has 10 MPs, has additionally tabled 5,800 amendments.

Its leader, Indrek Saar, said: "Our firm goal is to abandon the referendum, which, according to a recent survey by [pollsters] Turu-Uuringute, 58 percent of Estonians oppose."

"SDE's proposal to the coalition is not to proceed with the referendum bill. We are not wasting time or voting on these proposals; the aim is to stop a plan that divides the public and brings new tensions to society at an already difficult time," Saar added.

The bill passed its first reading on December 14, and its second reading is due in the New Year. While it was a policy from the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the bill was co-signed by the other two coalition parties, Center and Isamaa.

Reform want one more of their MPs on constitutional committee

Reform also requested MP Valdo Randpere be added to the constitutional committee, which would even out opponents and proponents of the bill within the committee itself.

MPs from the three coalition parties are generally seen as supporting the bill, originally intended to alter the constitution but now, should a "yes" vote prevail in April's referendum – if it goes ahead – it will confirm a definition which is already contained in domestic legislation via the Family Law Act.

At the same time, two coalition MPs, Oudekki Loone and Andrei Korobeinik, both from the Center Party, have also submitted amendments.

Loone's amendment would ask: "Should six hours a day, ie 30 hours a week, be established as the general national norm of working time in Estonia?" explaining in the accompanying memorandum that eight-hour days are not as productive, while Korobeinik's asked if fur farms should be banned by 2024. He also proposed questions on reducing forestation, and the practice of clocks changing in March and October.

Several Isamaa MPs recently expressed their opposition to the referendum via their own social media pages.

Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) opposed Reform's Valdo Randpere joining the constitutional committee. However, both of his deputies, Siim Kallas (Reform) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), supported his candidacy, ERR reports.

Critics of the bill say a referendum is not needed given more pressing issues facing the country during the pandemic. Supporters have called opposition to it radicalization.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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