Liia Hänni on Toompea row: Both bucks might end up falling off the bridge
Liia Hänni, member of the Constitutional Assembly and one of the authors of the Estonian Constitution, does not hold proper the current situation where the parliament cannot get to work due to the opposition's filibustering and believes that Riigikogu President Lauri Hussar did not breach rules and procedures when he quashed obstruction efforts on Monday. But Hänni is also critical of the coalition for rushing major change without properly consulting target groups.
We know of examples where obstruction has caused parliamentary work to grind to a halt – it happened during the Weimar Republic in Germany. The situation is troubling, and we should not simply shrug and say that locking horns is what they're supposed to do on Toompea Hill. It highlights problems with our representative democracy," Liia Hänni said on the "Vikerhommik" morning radio show.
She suggested that the opposition and coalition share the blame.
"We should look at the Riigikogu as an institution. The climate on Toompea is overshadowing major problems Estonia faces and concentrating on vying for power instead. The power struggle just moved from the elections to Toompea. To understand the situation, we need to look at the sides' justifications or lack thereof."
Hänni said she does not consider right the current situation where massive filibustering is keeping the parliament from getting to work.
"But we also cannot hold proper the way the government has started out. There is an Estonian saying to suggest that one should only hurry when catching fleas. Pushing through draft legislation at this pace and from a position of we control everything because we won the election and formed a coalition... Overusing the words "ruling coalition" and emphasizing the approach of power is a great way to make the situation worse."
Liia Hänni said that groups in society who will be affected by incoming legislation need to be given a say. Effects analyses are also firmly a part of the Riigikogu strategy.
"We have two bucks staring one another down in the middle of a narrow bridge, and both are in danger of falling off. People look on with annoyance or amusement. But they will have had enough at one point, which will cause the reputation of the Riigikogu to suffer to a point where it will become a threat to democracy."
Hänni said that political tensions always reflect in society and have led to fist fights and even bloodshed in parliaments.
"I don't think things could ever go that far in Estonia, while what we need as a people is for representative democracy and the Constitution to work so we could move on with our lives and solve problems together. We don't need feuding and tussling politicians on Toompea."
Situation resembles restoration of independence on August 20
Hänni said she kept a close eye on developments in the parliament on Monday and that it reminded her of when the decision to restore Estonia's independence was being debated on August 20, 1991.
"The decision was read out by Marju Lauristin, with Ülo Nugis chairing the sitting. Endless rows of questions went up on the screen. Russian delegates kept asking and asking. It got to a point where we could not see the end of of them at the bottom of the screen. Ülo Nugis then picked the MP whose question was the last one visible and asked the floor whether questions should end after that one. We voted and the avalanche of questions came to an end."
Hänni said that she believes Riigikogu rules and procedures should include a lever for putting an end to obstruction. What the coalition did Monday (Riigikogu President Lauri Hussar on Monday cut the obstruction short by forcing a vote on ending procedural questions – ed.) was elementary.
"It was based on the Riigikogu Rules and Procedures according to which the Board of the Riigikogu is in charge of work organization in case of differences. The board must generally have consensus, while if that consensus cannot be found, the matter is put to a vote on the floor. And that is what happened yesterday when a time limit was introduced for procedural questions."
She added that the opposition took advantage of gaps in the rules, as no legal act is ever perfect, while the chair of the sitting in turn made use of what the rules allowed.
"This was putting the question of how to move forward to a vote on the floor. And if we were to now say that the floor also cannot decide how to organize its work, the situation on Toompea would quickly spiral out of control. Even though it was done from a position of power, the situation was solved through a majority vote yesterday. I would have liked to see a different ending, because this is just one stage, which allows a single bill to be processed. The question is what happens next? We have no certainty of returning to normal legislative process. It will just pick up where it left off."
Hänni said that the key question is how will this crisis be resolved. Whether it will culminate in a lesson for the sides, or whether we will see this kind of skirmishing for the whole cycle.
"EKRE have said that they can go all year, meaning that the state budget would not be passed. Perhaps they are aiming for a major crisis to culminate in extraordinary elections. But it cannot be a normal prospect for the entire year, just watching them duke it out on Toompea. The people's nerves will not hold."
Proposal: First and second child benefits should equal that for the third
The former MP suggested that a solution could be to try and find a compromise for each of the opposition's criticisms, which are partly justified.
"For example, the reasoning behind slashing family benefits and explaining it in a way large families could understand," Hänni said, adding that she would try to come up with the money for also hiking the benefits for first and second children because smaller families currently feel overlooked.
Hänni also said she expects large families to understand that giving birth in exchange for money, which was at the heart of Isamaa's election promise of hiking the benefit in the first place, is humiliating.
"I would expect investigative journalism to really get down to the details of how the family benefits system was changed and voted into law. I believe that is where the current situation originated, as smaller families' protests were simply brushed aside. There was virtually no deliberation. The reason given was that proposals [to amend] were not in line with the coalition agreement. I hope to never hear the argument "we will not discuss it because it is contrary to the coalition agreement" in Estonia again," Liia Hänni said.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski