Riigikogu deadlock continues into Saturday

An earlier Riigikogu Council of Elders meeting, which took place Thursday.
An earlier Riigikogu Council of Elders meeting, which took place Thursday. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The week-long Riigikogu deadlock continued Friday with no light at the end of the tunnel, and is now set to last until Saturday evening, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday.

The three opposition parties, the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, have been blocking progress of legislative amends proposed by the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition, principally over the issue of family benefit cuts and also tax hikes.

The filibuster started Monday, and meant not only did the corresponding bills not obtain their first reading, as the government had hoped, but also the weekly Riigikogu agenda did not get approved.

The situation is without precedent in the Estonian parliamentary history since the restoration of independence over 30 years ago.

The Riigikogu's Council of Elders (Riigikogu vanematekogu), comprising the speaker and his two deputies, and the chief whips of the six represented parties, sought compromise during lengthy negotiations which ran to midnight Friday, but drew a blank.

Reform's chief whip, Erkki Keldo, speaking for the coalition, told AK that: "It was agreed yesterday (ie. Thursday-ed.) that the Council of Elders would meet today to discuss how to get out of this situation, procedurally speaking."

Erkki Keldo at a Riigikogu Council of Elders meeting, Thursday, May 11, 2023, aimed at breaking the deadlock following a four-day opposition filibuster. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

"However, following this agreement, the opposition sent out an invitation to an additional session, proof positive that there is actually no substantive desire to discuss things on their part, as those individual amendments which they think are convenient to discuss are being cherry-picked, but in actual fact these same amendments are also in any case on next week's agenda," Keldo went on.

Meanwhile from the opposition, Center's chair, and one of the two Riigikogu deputy speakers, Jüri Ratas, told AK that: "The opposition made its own proposals on how to extricate ourselves out of this stalemate, which the coalition then discussed, but the conclusion was that there was in fact no agreement, so we are back to square one. This all means that the filibuster will continue."

That filibuster is being conducted within the interpretation of the relevant legislation, the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act.

Ratas added that he hoped some sort of break in the deadlock could be found by 3 p.m. next Monday "at the latest", when parliament could focus on those areas on which there is no major inter-party dispute, or disagreement between coalition and opposition – for instance on support for Ukraine.

At the same time, the Center Party leader was not wholly critical of the opposition, saying that, while he could not comment on proposals made Friday evening, "The opposition was, I think, quite constructive."

Earlier in the week, the Reform Party had separated legislation on the tax hikes into four sections, but, Erkki Keldo said, this was not enough to placate the opposition, who were still uncooperative, reiterating what the opposition had said about earlier coalition proposals being unacceptable to them.

Friday's Council of Elder's meeting ran from 6 p.m. Friday to close to midnight; Center's chief whip Tanel Kiik told AK the main focus had been on family benefit cuts and ways to alleviate these, as proposed by the coalition.

Tanel Kiik at a Riigikogu Council of Elders meeting, Thursday, May 11, 2023, aimed at breaking the deadlock following a four-day opposition filibuster. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

He, too, expressed some hope for progress, saying that "Today is actually perhaps the first day where these discussions have become somewhat more concrete and substantive than in previous days," hinting that common ground might be met

Should the deadlock remain, Kiik said Friday, the Riigikogu session will run to 9 p.m. today, Saturday.

Some leading opposition members have also expressed concerns that the coalition was going to rely on the impending, lengthy Riigikogu summer recess -parliament's last scheduled day at work is June 15 - in the hopes that the public will have forgotten about the proposed tax hikes and family benefit cuts by then.

These policies had not been explicitly mentioned in the parties' pre-election manifestos, and only emerged just as the coalition deal was signed last month, ie. over a month after the three parties had won 60 seats between them, at the 101-seat chamber.

Another proposed car tax policy is still at a much earlier stage and so does not form a part of the current, obstructed legislation.

EKRE's leader, Martin Helme, had said the filibuster could last to fall or even to next spring, which were that to transpire, would trigger extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu, following the elections of March this year. Again, this would be an unprecedented situation for Estonia.

President Alar Karis on Friday called for an end to the stalemate, adding that only the combatting MPs themselves can accomplish that, a line which the prime minister took, too, earlier in the week.

A suitable metaphor for the current state of affairs can also be found in central Tallinn's streets, which are also practically gridlocked on working days, due to extensive infrastructure works taking place at several locations at the same time.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Liisbeth Rats, Madis Hindre, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', ERR Radio news.

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