Political parties pledge more direct democracy, a more efficient Riigikogu

Riigikogu's main debating chamber.
Riigikogu's main debating chamber. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia's political parties' election pledges regarding the governance aspects include calls for a directly elected head of state, the elimination of the 5 percent election threshold, and reforms to how parties are financed, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday.

Other forms of direct democracy, and/or a more efficient working of representative democracy, ie. the Riigikogu, are also included.

It might be fairly stated that many of the pledges reflect the status of the party making them, and would benefit it directly if the policy in question were adopted.

Among Center's pledges include more utilization of the Riigikogu for, for instance, reports from the heads of state agencies and institutions at least once a year, options for information requests and usage on the part of the legislature, and more opportunities for citizens' initiatives to reach parliament.

Center's chair and Riigikogu speaker, Jüri Ratas, told AK that: "If it really turns out that, for example, 25,000 signatures from the people of Estonia express a desire for change, then the Riigikogu is obliged to process that at a plenary session."

"I think that another very fundamental issue that the Center Party has stood for is direct elections of the president," Ratas added.

Citizens' initiatives can currently be proposed via the rahvaalgatus site; Estonia's presidents are elected by the Riigikogu in the first instance.

Meanwhile Tõnis Kons, Parempoolsed board member, told AK that his party stands for the continuation of representative, as opposed to direct, democracy.

"We clearly disagree with calls to pass laws via referenda, or other other ways that can polarize society. That is not the way forward," Kons said.

Parempoolsed is contesting its first ever election, having been incorporated as a party last autumn. It started out as a faction within Isamaa.

Contesting its third election, and second to the Riigikogu, Eesti 200 is looking for its first ever parliamentary seats.

Party leader Lauri Hussar said that the legislature should work more efficiently than it has done. "The past four years have demonstrated that the Riigikogu's work needs to be reorganized, so that it will be much more effective and so debates held there are much better understood by the public."

The party says it would abolish the "protection money" scheme, and also change legislation to bar any party convicted of a criminal offense from receiving state support, until the sentence imposed has expired.

"Protection money" (Katuseraha) sees parties receive funding from the state budget, distributed by all MPs who apply for it, to regional projects of their choice.

These can include church restoration, funding an NGO or improving sports facilities, for instance.

The Reform Party long held out from taking part in the scheme, referring to it as a type of corruption – given its timing coincides with getting the state budget passed, and, last autumn, ahead of the Riigikogu elections as well – but has more recently joined in as well.

The Center Party was named as a suspect in a corruption case relating to alleged illicit donations, in the form of PR work done by a private sector firm several years ago, and had to pay several hundreds of thousands of euros in fines, which it did last year.

State support is paid to Estonia's political parties in proportion to their representation.

Of other parties, Reform pledges also to improve political party funding monitoring and to suspend voting rights in local elections of foreign nationals who support terrorist regimes.

The Social Democrats (SDE) say they will put an upper limit on election campaign spend and cap party donations at €50,000. The party also says that 300 members should be sufficient for a political party to be constituted as such, as against the current level of 500 members.

SDE is less well-funded than the comparable, in terms of seat numbers, Isamaa, while the latter last year received the largest single donations from any individual, to any party, namely BigBank owner Parvel Pruunsild.

Isamaa itself would also boost the Riigikogu's role, curb bureaucracy and opposes the politicization of public services, according to its manifesto.

Questions were raised over the legislature's powers and functions as against the executive's, during the Covid pandemic.

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) would introduce a form of direct democracy by permitting citizens to initiate draft bills and referenda, both of which would be binding. EKRE, too, supports direct presidential elections, and would repeal the Registered Partnership Act, colloquially known as the cohabitation act, which would grant equal legal status to cohabiting partners of any gender as are granted to married couples. This act has long been mired in an impasse over the enabling legislation needed for it to fully enter into force. EKRE also attempted to get a bill processed which would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, in the Constitution, but this was filibustered out of existence in late 2021.

The Greens say they would abolish the electoral threshold, permit electoral alliances to run for the Riigikogu, and cancel the deposit requirements, of a few hundred euros per candidate, at parliamentary elections.

The Greens regularly poll below the 5 percent needed, in an actual vote, to win seats, under Estonia's d'Hondt system of proportional representation.

Electoral alliances run in local elections and often enter office in coalitions in the regions. They provide an alternative to the mainstream parties.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera'

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