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Justice chancellor: Extreme obstruction lends strength to autocratic instincts

Ülle Madise.
Ülle Madise. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

If the Riigikogu stops performing its constitutional role, voices calling for a more efficient order grow louder and the role of the parliament as the only representative body elected directly by the people grows weaker, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise finds when commenting on the Riigikogu's work ability and recent obstruction efforts.

"The center of gravity of decision-making is transferred to other institutions, such as the president, government or the courts. I am convinced that whichever such scenario works to drive splits in society, weaken protection of fundamental rights and the rule of law and lends strength to autocratic instincts that exist in every society in a more or less hidden form," Madise found.

But the justice chancellor also found that the new coalition missed its chance to be exemplarily statesmanlike and take a clear step away from past mistakes in preparing draft legislation, its deliberation and passing.

"No matter how serious members of the government found the problems they faced, the rules and good practice of legislative deliberation should have been observed to the letter. Unfortunately, this was not done, which provided a casus belli for obstruction."

Constitutional order under attack

The justice chancellor remarked that obstruction is a natural part of the parliamentary process and must not be prohibited.

"Unfortunately, what started as justified obstruction soon grew into a complete work stoppage in the form of hundreds of draft bills and interpellations filed. This basically constituted an attack on the constitutional order in creating a situation where the parliament is unable to do its work over a prolonger period of time. It also took away the president's right to refuse to promulgate legislation tied to a confidence vote in the government and for the matter to be resolved in the Supreme Court.

Madise said that some politicians turned to the malicious political practice of challenging election results to win favor with voters despite the elections having been found fair and legitimate by electoral bodies and the Supreme Court.

"Among other things, threats were made in vowing to make sure the legislative body could not do its work. But despite these attempts, the coalition should still have observed legislative drafting rules and good practice of compromise democracy."

State apparatus must not grind to a halt

The justice chancellor is convinced only the Riigikogu can find a way out of the current situation.

"Fair parliamentary culture can be achieved by imagining oneself both in the shoes of the government and an MP, as both a proponent and opponent of the government's plans. The way bills are processed must appear fair from every aspect. This is also prudent as coalitions change. The state apparatus must not grind to a halt, and it is the parliamentary majority that has the final say in agreement democracy."

Madise also said that the work of the Riigikogu is organized by its board (made up of the speaker and deputy speakers – ed.) and that MPs who feel their rights have been violated can turn to the Supreme Court.

"The most effective way of dealing with such signs of danger is to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Constitution without fail," Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise said in summary.

President of the Riigikogu Lauri Hussar has convened a panel of experts to analyze the parliamentary impasse and find solutions, which will be meeting at the Song Festival Grounds on Thursday. The panel is made up of political experts, with presentations by former President Kersti Kaljulaid, former Riigikogu President Eiki Nestor, former Chancellor of Justice Allar Jõks, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Märt Rask, former deputy head of the Office of the Riigikogu Aaro Mõttus, scientist Liia Hänni, former European Court of Justice Judge Rait Maruste and former European Court of Justice Judge Uno Lõhmus.

Extraordinary obstruction efforts were launched following the 2023 parliamentary elections and the formation of the current government of the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party, which sought to quickly pass several important bills immediately after coming to power, including same-sex marriage and wide-ranging tax hikes. The opposition of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE), Isamaa and the Center Party filed a host of draft bills and interpellations to effectively block the Riigikogu's work and prevent the bills from being passed. To overcome this, the coalition decided to put to a vote on the floor time limits for how many bills and interpellations will be heard in a single sitting, which the opposition finds clashes with parliamentary rules and good practice. The opposition turned to the Supreme Court, which found that it is permissible to vote on ending these excessive obstruction efforts if the work ability of the parliament is at stake. While the coalition has plans to only process interpellations and the opposition's draft bills on certain days during the fall session to spread out the deliberations and have time to work on its own bills, EKRE have vowed to turn to the Supreme Court again and said that it is also possible to drag out the process of entering bills into proceedings.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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