Saturday meeting decides Riigikogu committee, marriage referendum future

Lauri Läänemets (red tie) and Anti Poolamets (to Läänemets' immediate left) at a constitutional committee meeting last week.
Lauri Läänemets (red tie) and Anti Poolamets (to Läänemets' immediate left) at a constitutional committee meeting last week. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Saturday sees a secret ballot to elect to the posts of chair and deputy chair of the Riigkogu's constitutional committee, following the resignation of deputy chair Lauri Läänemets (SDE) on Friday, in protest at curbs on MPs' floor time in presenting amendment proposals to a bill which would allow a referendum on the definition of marriage to go ahead, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday night.

The constitutional affairs committee is chaired by Anti Poolamets (EKRE), who Läänemets and other opposition MPs charged with obstructing the democratic process.

Läänemets also said the referendum itself could and should be ditched.

"I think it (cancellation of the referendum – ed.) is possible," Läänemets told AK.

"Of course, there is no outside force here; they are like us, we are like them. I think that looking for compromises should always have its place in politics, and I would look to the prime minister for some initiatives concerning the implementing acts of the Family Law Act, which give all Estonian families equal opportunities. I think we are willing to consider different behavior immediately," Läänemets went on.

Läänemets also told AK that the opposition will be attending an off-scheduled session of the Riigikogu's constitutional affairs committee on Saturday and will be making the point that the planned referendum which the bill would enact should not be a priority during a pandemic.

"Riigikogu sittings [to vote on the bill's second reading] have not yet begun, but we have been in a stalemate for three days," Läänemets said, though added this was not the intention of the opposition, but rather that the latter was trying to get the message across.

Over 9,000 amendments tabled

Läänemets stepped down as constitutional affairs committee deputy chair Friday, a move which should require a ballot not only for his replacement, but for that of the committee chair, Anti Poolamets (EKRE), who had been in the process of going through the over 9,000 bill amendment proposals tabled by both opposition parties, Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), as well as some coalition MPs.

Poolamets, whose office at the RIigikogu was entered by opposition MPs, including Reform leader Kaja Kallas, on Friday, in protest at a time limit Poolamets had set up for MPs making their amendment proposals, told AK that: "Today is a day of listening and tomorrow (ie. Saturday – ed) is a day of decision-making. Tomorrow we will make decisions."

Poolamets had been holding the bill amendment proposals session remotely via video link-up.

During Friday's office invasion, Poolamets had told Läänemets, his deputy on the committee, to: "First put on a mask, and then do not breach another's [office] room."

"Comrade socialist (Läänemets is an MP with the Social Democratic Party - ed.), please get out of here ... we are having the meeting virtually. You have no right to enter a private room," Poolamets went on, before vacating his office.

Läänemets responded that: "If you want to carry it out (i.e. the marriage referendum bill session – ed.) in this room, you have automatically turned your office into a meeting room."

Läänemets, Kallas and Reform MP Valdo Randpere, who joined them in Poolamets' office, said they had done so to ensure Poolamets did not mute the mic of MPs presenting their proposals.

SDE MP: Opposition using coalition's own methods

Läänemets also said that the opposition had adopted such tactics as a way of responding in kind, since the coalition parties had also used "roller coaster" methods.

The committee ended its hearing Friday and will continue Saturday with a meeting which, as at the time of writing, a new constitutional committee chair and vice-chair must also be elected, via secret ballot. The candidate with the highest vote tally becomes the new chair, the runner-up will be the new deputy chair.

The constitutional affairs committee will then resume its work on the marriage referendum bill, AK reported.

Poolamets himself told AK that he thought his position would not be in jeopardy and that he would continue as committee chair after Saturday, on the grounds that the coalition MPs have a majority on committees.

Läänemets proposed EKRE MP Kalle Grünthal as his, Poolamets', possible replacement, while talking to AK.

The original AK slot (in Estonian) including footage of Läänemets, Kallas and Randpere entering Poolamets' office during the online session, and the latter then relocating, is here.

The marriage definition referendum is scheduled to take place on April 18, via e-voting and open to all Estonian citizens. However, to keep that date the bill enacting the referendum would need to pass by January 18, meaning it needs to reach the Riigikogu for its second reading from next week.

The opposition's over 9,000 amendments were likely used as a filibustering tactic to prevent that from happening, and included many proposals of either a humorous nature or on an unrelated topic.

The referendum would ask as a simple question whether marriage should be legally defined in Estonia as between one man and one woman, as it currently is in the Family Law Act in any case.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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