EKRE leader warns of dissent spilling over onto the streets

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Martin Helme (EKRE) outside the Riigikogu, Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
Martin Helme (EKRE) outside the Riigikogu, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In opting to resolve the current Riigikogu standoff with the use of force, the government would provoke a reaction, which would in turn spell even deeper rifts in society, the replacement of parliamentary debate with parliamentary 'trench warfare,' the spilling out of anger onto the streets, and the general collapse of society, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chair Martin Helme said Tuesday.

Helme made his remarks on his social media account as an opposition filibuster at the Riigikogu enters its second week.

"Yesterday (Monday - ed.) was a very dark day for Estonian democracy," the EKRE chair went on.

"The liberal camp openly and brazenly violated the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act, not to mention the Constitution and literally silenced the parliamentary opposition. An opposition that had behaved completely legally. This is clearly against the law. We are entering an era of silence," he continued.

Helme was alluding to the seizure of power by then-prime minister of Estonia Konstantin Pats in the mid-to-late 1930s, and the silencing of opposition in the interests of restoring order after several years' turmoil.

The coalition Reform Party had suggested Monday that lifting the current deadlock, ostensibly over the planned cutting of family benefits, could be achieved via coercive means.

While the opposition is not being permitted to continue with its law-abiding work, Helme added, delay tactics do not amount to a constitutional crisis, since filibustering has been conducted at parliament before.

"This has always been resolved legally, as a rule, by finding a political compromise," he added.

However, Helme continued: "We have a clear crisis of democracy, because it has been decided to resolve the obstruction organized by the parliamentary opposition by breaking the law and by the use of force. What Kaja Kallas, Lauri Hussar and Lauri Läämenets have done is characteristic of what happens in the legislatures in Russia, in Belarus or in Venezuela, not at the legislature of a democratic European state."

The current situation will lead longer-term term to some severe consequences, since the coalition crossed an invisible divide on Monday, on which it will prove very difficult to cross back over, and back to a normal social order, the EKRE leader went on.

"First, if this is permissible to the liberals, then it will be permissible to the conservatives in the future, rest assured nothing less will happen when the roles are reversed," Helme's social media post continued.

The Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition is generally speaking an all-liberal alliance, while the Center-EKRE-Isamaa opposition is broadly populist, in the case of the first two parties, and conservative in respect of the latter two.

"Second, when the political opposition at the Riigikogu is suppressed by force, the protest then moves to the streets. By opting to resolve the political confrontation by force, the government invites a counter-force. This, in turn, means an even more severe social division, the replacement of parliamentary debate with parliamentary trench warfare, the spilling of resentment out on to the streets and the general collapse of society," Helme added.

Last week saw multiple late-night and off-schedule Riigikogu sessions, including a 30-hour marathon overnight Friday to Saturday, as the three opposition parties tabled as many questions, interpellations and draft amendments as they could, primarily in relation to the legislation which would cut family benefits.

This legislation, along with bills to up VAT and income tax by two percentage points, were not announced in any of the three coalition parties' pre-election manifestos.

The government has also approved its bill to instate same-sex marriage in Estonia, a bill which is thus also likely to get held up in the filibuster.

Helme to ERR: If need be, the people can be called on to bar coalition MPs from coming to work

Speaking to ERR Tuesday, Helme said that should the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition use coercion to bar opposition MPs from carrying out what he called their legal obligations at the Riigikogu, then the people must be called upon for assistance.

"The people can then start barring coalition MPs from coming to work, because we are being barred from doing our work right now," Helme said.

Helme tempered his words by saying that this would be to open a pandora's box of delights, so should not be done lightly, adding that politics, including heated debated, should remain in the Riigikogu chamber.

"Once politics does go to the streets it becomes somehow difficult to normalize. But that is the direction the coalition government is steering things, with its behavior. The more they resort to force, the more difficult governing the country, and the situation in society, gets," he went on.

When Reform's chief whip Erkki Keldo said Monday that there were "ways and means" of terminating the current filibuster, he did not elaborate on what these were, so far as is reported.

"We need to restore the constitutional right to make decisions and pass laws. It is our common obligation and right. And it needs to be ensured," Keldo said. at the time, adding that: "Personally, I believe that every day, every hour the Riigikogu is not doing its mandated job amounts to wasting taxpayer money."

Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu, was once the scene of a mass movement of ordinary people, one which changed the course of events, albeit in a very different situation. That time, in May 1990, an apparent attempt on the part of members of the pro-Soviet Interfront movement and their supporters to take over what is now the Riigikogu was scotched after a large number of Estonian people surrounded the building. This followed an appeal by Edgar Savisaar, made over the radio, in which he stated that Toompea was under attack.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include comments from Martin Helme as given to ERR.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook

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