PM gives both sides right to defend position in referendum quarrel

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said both the coalition and its opposition have an equal right to defend their politics in parliament.

"I sincerely believe that all parties must retain balance and respect in a situation such as this. On one side, the weight of the Riigikogu's majority is on one scale, along with an opportunity to pass their policies and the opposition sits on the otherside with the right to stop it by using parliamentary options," the prime minister and Center Party leader wrote in a letter to ERR about the fiery arguments in Riigikogu about the planned referendum on the definition of marriage.

"A respectful attitude and communication must remain among MPs and the public throughout the procedure," the government head noted.

Ratas did not comment on whether or not the constitutional affairs committee acted in accordance with the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act when it grouped the 9,400 opposition amendment proposals into five groups in an attempt to foil their plan of obstructing the referendum vote by creating a lengthy discussion about the proposals.

It was clear to Isamaa Party leader Helir-Valdor Seeder however: "I think it is in accordance."

Antero Habicht, acting director of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu, opposed Seeder's opinion in a legal analysis and memo to Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas last November. "In our assessment, this solution is not in accordance with the wording and principle of the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act," Habicht wrote.

At the same time, he admitted that it does allow the coalition to clear the opposition's obstruction so that "the parliament's work would not be paralyzed for a longer period of time, leading to the parliament's substantive work to suffer".

In case the Center-EKRE-Isamaa coalition gathers enough votes to organize the marriage referendum, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise will likely take the decision to the Supreme Court. It is unknown if she will dispute only the procedure or the referendum question as well, one that many lawyers have criticized as contentless.

Antero Habicht does not rule out that grouping several amendments into groups could be considered a "significant breach of procedure" that would cancel the referendum decision.

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder however does not see an issue with the topic reaching the Supreme Court. "If someone protests and if the justice chancellor takes it to the Supreme Court - there is no reason to worry about it. To the contrary, it shows that the justice chancellor exists and so does the Supreme Court," Seeder said. "Opposition representatives should be happy that if there is a violation of the law then the [Riigikogu] decision will be canceled."

In June of 2020, the opposition Social Democrats (SDE) tabled 50,000 amendments to a bill looking to remove party finance watchdog ERJK and hand over its responsibilities to the National Audit Office. The respective draft law is currently collecting dust on the coalition's shelves. Will that also be taken out, the proposal amendments all added up and the bill forced into law?

"There is no agreement made in that regard, it needs a discussion in the coalition," Seeder rejected the notion of drawing parallels between the marriage referendum and ERJK. "They are completely separate cases to me and ERJK is not as important in daily affairs," the Isamaa leader said.

The referendum on the definition of marriage is important in daily affairs, according to Seeder, as it stems from the Registered Partnership Act, also called the Cohabitation Act, that was approved in 2014. Seeder says the act has perpetually divided society since it was put into force.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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