Ministers condemn Reform MPs' question if Estonia better under Russian rule

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Copy of the Estonian Constitution at a recent constitutional affairs committee sitting at the Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While many of the over 9,000 proposed amendments to a bill which would give the go-ahead to a referendum on the definition of marriage have been intentionally humorous or even bizarre, one has been attacked, mostly via social media, as in poor taste by the prime minister, foreign minister and other government members, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Saturday.

The amendment proposal, tabled by Reform MPs Urmas Kruuse, Ants Laaneots and Jüri Jaanson, posed the question: "Would it be better to live in the Republic of Estonia, if the Republic of Estonia were a part of Russia?"

Ants Laaneots is a former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF).

Urmas Kruuse withdrew the tabled amendment Saturday.

The amendments are generally formulated as a question as the planned referendum itself would be in the interrogative, namely should marriage in Estonia be legally defined as a union between one man and one woman.

Opposition tactics have involved filibustering, including tabling such a large number of alternative referendum questions in order to derail the bill; coalition MPs in turn have been accused of hindering the democratic process by limiting MPs' floor time in debating the bill, which is due to go for its second Riigikogu reading next week.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) called Kruuse, Laaneots and Jaanson's proposal : "False, unthinkable and frustrating".

VIa his social media account, Ratas said: "As Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia, I strongly and unequivocally condemn the completely irresponsible proposal from Ants Laaneots, Urmas Kruuse and Jüri Jaanson, Reform Party MPs, to put the idea or question … [in the wording as above]."

Foreign minister: MPs would violate their oath of office if voting on this amendment

Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said that the MPs had violated their oath of office and the proposal should not be discussed.

Reinsalu wrote, also on social media, that: "It is my clear conviction that the Riigikogu cannot, in essence, discuss this amendment without the members of the Riigikogu who are formally considering it (even as they are voting against it) violating their oath of office. Our statehood, our republic, cannot afford a where that even a formal discussion of such a proposal could be constitutional according to some formalistic interpretation."

Ratas agreed with this assessment: "I share the Foreign Minister's view that the Riigikogu cannot process such a proposal," he wrote, calling on all political actors, including the president, to condemn the tabled amendment.

Finance minister and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme also condemned the amendment, saying the: "...issue itself is contrary to the Constitution and [Estonian] independence and thus to the Republic of Estonia."

Reform leader: Point was all our amendments are phrased in a way which we would want to be answered in the negative

Reform chair Kaja Kallas responded to one Twitter user wondering whether it had been: "...Necessary to bring Russia to the game now? Finland, Sweden, Germany, the U.S.. There would have been so many choices [which might have been better]," by saying that all her party's tabled amendments should be answered "no", on the grounds that that is how the party would want voters at the referendum, should it go ahead, to answer the provisional question about marriage.

Kallas tweeted that: "All of our MEPs proposed a 'no' answer to them, because we have said that we are going to have a 'no' campaign anyway. If someone were to vote in, we could still do a 'no' campaign," Kallas wrote on social media.

Speaking via a Reform spokesperson Saturday, when an off-scheduled meeting of the Riigikogu's constitutional affairs committee had resumed after opposition attempts to halt it, Urmas Kruuse withdrew the amendment proposal.

Kruuse said: "Naturally, my personal answer to this question and the answer from all of us would be a a resounding 'No'. Estonia is and must always remain free. I tabled this amendment to draw attention to the absurdity of this referendum, and the need to answer 'No' to the question imposed by EKRE. I understand that my question is inappropriate, and I will take it back."

Opposition MPs leave constitutional affairs committee

MPs from the two opposition parties, Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), left Saturday's constitutional affairs committee meeting Saturday in protest at the committee chair's use of a mic mute function.

The protest came a day after Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas, deputy chair of the constitutional affairs committee Lauri Läänemets (SDE) and Reform MP Valdo Randpere, entered the office of the committee's chair, Anti Poolamets (EKRE) Friday, where he had been holding a meeting via remote link-up and planned to let MPs speak on the bill and its amendments in the same way. The three opposition MPs objected to MPs only being given seven minutes to speak, saying that this curtailed the democratic process, as did Poolamets' muting MPs' mics if they overran their allotted time.

Lauri Läänemets also stepped down as deputy committee chair, triggering an election both for his post and that of Anti Poolamets, which took place earlier on Saturday. In the event, both men were returned to their posts following a secret ballot, and the meeting resumed later on the Saturday.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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