Minister: Constitution's framers never foresaw this 'legalistic terrorism'

Hanno Pevkur.
Hanno Pevkur. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

If the current Riigikogu stalemate arising from opposition parties' filibuster of coalition legislation continues, the head of state will need to intervene, Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says.

The situation is not one which the framers of the Estonian Constitution had in mind, while the same could be said of the authors of the Riigikogu's Rules of Procedure, Pevkur adds.

Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday evening, day four of the deadlock, the defense minister said: "Democracy surely means that a coalition has the opportunity to bring in its own legislative bills, while the opposition has the right to criticize these, but the kind of legalistic reign of terror that the opposition is currently deploying, certainly neither the Constitution nor the rules of procedure had envisaged."

"We are in a situation where, in fact, if all the parties that have been elected to parliament – there are six of them today, maybe three, maybe eight or 10, in four years' time (ie. After the next Riigikogu election-ed.) – if everyone behaved according to this same pattern, regardless of whether they are in opposition or in coalition right now, then an essentially democratic state would cease to exist in its current form," Pevkur added.

One branch of the separate powers, ie. The executive, is currently paralyzed and non-functioning meaning the situation must be resolved by the legislature itself, he went on.

"Should that not happen, what I see is that the President of the Republic, who bears the role of guarantor of democracy and also of the Constitution, can intervene first, and if that doesn't work out, it is clear that the voter will get the final say," he continued.

Pevkur says he sees three ways to resolve the current situation – first, the opposition can call halt to its obstructing the work of parliament; second, the Riigikogu's board, consisting of the speaker and his two deputies, can interpret the law in a way that should overcome the impasse; third, the head of state summons the elected parties and recounts to them what the Constitution and the legislature were in fact created for.

The protests over the content of the bills which prompted the filibuster – tax hikes and, even more at issue, family benefit cuts – can always be revisited after the agenda at the Riigikogu gets back on track, he added.

In any case, the mandate granted by the electorate on March 5 does not bring with it the right to lock down parliament via legal mechanisms; the will of the voter must be accepted – forcing along obstruction to the extent that an extraordinary election is called would be unacceptable, Pevkur said.

So far, the filibuster has lasted a whole week – the main Riigikogu hall is convening Friday whereas it normally would not do, in addition to late night or overnight sessions which have been held this week; this already is without precedent in the Riigikogu's history, Pevkur said.

Since one of the opposition parties, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), has threatened to drag things out at least until the autumn, the head of state may yet need to intervene, while the coalition for its part has hived off the tax amendments aspects of the legislative bills into four parts, the minister went on.

Pevkur also said that a previous administration under Jüri Ratas (Center) had eviscerated a Reform Party bill also, while the latter were in opposition.

The expansion of the Nursipalu training ground is also awaiting discussion in the Riigikogu

The holdup at the Riigikogu is also interfering with progress on the Nursipalu training area expansion, Pevkur added – the necessary legal amendments needed to purchase properties inside the expansion zone needs to be squared away before midsummer, he said.

Priority with the expansion lies with Estonia's own forces, namely the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the South Estonian heavy infantry counterpart of the 1st Infantry Brigade, as well as the EDF's artillery with the arrival of the South Korean-made K9 Thunder self-propelled guns.

Pevkur also said that live firing of heavy weaponry would not take place at Nursipalu in the summer months, while the compensation amounts offered to those whose properties will be bought up are "very dignified," and above figures which some owners had quoted on TV as being acceptable.

In any case, the debates on all legislation at parliament need to be substantive, and the deadlines for amendments will be the regulation 10 days, Pevkur said.

Taxation changes should be adopted six months ahead of the start of the budgetary year, ie. January, he added, while only VAT will rise from the new year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Esimene stuuio', presenter Mirko Ojakivi.

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