Expert: Law not clear on place of mass Riigikogu bill amendments
Constitutional law expert Paloma Krõõt Tupay says that Estonian law is not clear on a recent decision by the Riigikogu's Constitutional Affairs Committee to send the bill on holding a referendum on the definition of marriage in the face of thousands of proposed amendments. At the same time, the opposition in effect has the right to use filibustering tactics up to a point, she said.
Appearing on ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Wednesday night, noted the legality of the move, which sees the bill being sent to the Riigikogu without all of the close to 9,400 amendment proposals being discussed in full, is not clear.
"In essence, this is not prescribed by law. There are different interpretations here," Tupay told interviewer Astrid Kannel.
"This is something lawyers always say, in a very unendearing way, yes, but ... we must bear in mind that these principles can play an important role when we look in detail at who is ultimately in the right," Tupay added.
The thousands of amendments, tabled by the two opposition parties, Reform and the Social Democrats, as well as some from coalition party MPs, would have, if discussed in detail, led to the bill not making it to the Riigikogu in time for a second reading next week. This in turn may have pushed back the referendum's planned date of April 18.
Many of the amendments were reportedly not serious in nature.
Tupay stressed that the question concerned the procedural side of the planned referendum and its legislative process, rather than the substance of the proposed poll, which would, if the bill passes, ask the Estonian citizenry if marriage should be legally defined as being between one man and one woman, or not (as it currently is defined, in fact).
"First of all, indeed, I would like to emphasize that we are not talking now about the substance of this referendum, but about its procedural arrangements," she said.
"And in order not to get lost in this maze of norms now, I would like to explain a little bit about the principles behind this controversy. We are debating the rules of procedure of the Riigikogu, and the principle of democracy is behind this."
This included the functioning of a parliamentary opposition, she added.
"One aspect of democracy is the capacity of the Riigikogu. We know this from history, it is an important aspect; an important democratic value. This also means that the majority of the Riigikogu must generally be able to implement the policy for which it stands by means of laws."
"However, there is no democracy without opposition. A minority must have the ability to become a majority, which means that they must have the substantive right to table amendments, alternative proposals, and to issue criticism."
"Among other things, our law stipulates that the opposition also has such a procedural opportunity to point out an obstruction, which means, in essence, making it impossible to adopt a bill of the Riigikogu by submitting a large number of amendments."
The submission of a massive number of amendments by an opposition party has happened before, in the recent past. In summer, the Social Democrats tabled over 50,000 amendments to a bill aiming to abolish the party finances watchdog body.
"The question now is what to do with this option of obstruction, how it works and how it fits in with these principles, because, of course, one cannot just read the letter of the law alone, one must also understand its meaning."
"And here, thankfully, the Supreme Court has recently taken a position, in the context of its pension reform decision, where the prime minister decided to link the bill to the issue of confidence, because more than 2,000 amendments had been tabled ... and in this case [the court} took the view that the obstruction may indeed be unconstitutional to some extent, and may not support a substantive parliamentary debate."
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Editor: Andrew Whyte