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Allar Jõks: Estonian state will be the loser in parliamentary deadlock

Former justice chancellor Allar Jõks.
Former justice chancellor Allar Jõks. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Both unlimited filibustering and the linking of bills to a vote of confidence – meaning MPs are voting on confidence in the government rather than the content of the appended bill – are a threat to parliamentary democracy, former Chancellor of Justice Allar Jõks says.

Ultimately, neither opposition, with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) conducting the filibuster, nor Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition, tying the no confidence votes to bills being processed, can win or lose from the stalemate, and only the Estonian state loses, Jõks told current affairs show "Ringvaade."

Jõks said that whereas 25 years ago, a burgeoning parliamentary democracy could be observed in being built up in Estonia, the present generation is witnessing how the foundations of that parliamentary democracy is being undermined, in an unprecedented way.

"Perhaps the point is not who exactly is exactly to blame here, as there are no winners or losers in this situation, regardless of our political preferences or affiliations," Jõks said.

"The Estonian state is actually the loser here. It could be fairly stated that both Riigikogu obstruction and the tying of bills to a vote of confidence, both in an unrestricted form, are a threat to parliamentary democracy."

"The Supreme Court has said this; that if there are too many bills tied to a vote of confidence, it precludes a parliamentary debate – a law is passed that has not been debated, while if there is too much obstruction, then another danger arises, namely that the coalition, with a Riigikogu majority, cannot implement its [electoral] pledges," Jõks went on.

Jõks said he agrees with current Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, who said that the first cause, in the current obstruction, is the governing coalition, since, in order to avoid a parliamentary debate immediately after the elections and without any clear and present need to do so, they tied many bills to a vote of confidence.

"Then afterwards we are already reaping this harvest, so it is not viable to say this is a black-and-white thing here now," Jõks added.

According to Jõks, in the case of a filibuster, i.e. the deliberate obstruction of parliamentary work, it is vital to ascertain where its purpose lies.

"It is permissible and acceptable, not to mention understandable, if the obstruction is related to some specific bill with specific issues. But if there are no issues analyzed, no commitment here, then it is clear that obstruction is only a weapon at the opposition's disposal."

"If the purpose of the filibuster is to halt the work of the Riigikogu in order to lead to a call for an election on an emergency basis, or for the prime minister to resign, or for the end of the world to arrive, or for any other interest, then this is not really permissible under the spirit of the Constitution," Jõks went on.

"Plus the Supreme Court has also made it very clear on at least two occasions that the ability of the Riigikogu to function is more important than narrow political interests which hinder the work of that Riigikogu," he added.

"I am certainly opposed to the practice of different enforcement dates, different percentages are simply offered to hinder parliamentary work. In this regard, we have seen that all political parties currently represented at parliament have used filibustering as a weapon, with the exception of Eesti 200. There is nothing new in that. But amendments that would improve a piece of legislation should be accepted."

Jõks said that the ruling coalition should not use the vote of confidence route as a solution of convenience, yet with thousands of amendments being tabled [by the opposition], there is no other way to continue the Riigikogu's work, he said.

"As a solution of convenience in the sense of diminishing debate, curbing discussions, quickly adopting bills. However in a situation where more than 2,000 amendments have actually been submitted, if we are to be frank, in fact there is no other way to continue the work of parliament than to tie bills to a vote of confidence," he went on.

"Whether these particular seven bills (link in Estonian – ed.) were supposed to be linked to a vote of confidence is somewhat hard to say. I have thoroughly analyzed some bills myself, and I have observed plenty of legal issues there. In other words, if the bills are linked to a vote of confidence, these issues will remain in the legislation, and the competitiveness of Estonia, the well-being of the Estonian people, employment etc. may suffer as a result of these issues, in the future," Jõks added.

The opposition has appealed to the head of state, President Alar Karis, to help resolve the impasse at the Riigikogu. However, Jõks doubts that President Karis is in a position to help.

"The president is a balancer, a mediator, but in a situation where all the parliamentary parties have become deeply entrenched and are lobbing grenades at the other side, I don't think that the president will be able to overcome this confrontation in any way. But it is still certainly worth trying," the former justice chancellor continued.

"However, the president also has another option at his disposal; to decline to give his assent to a bill, on the grounds of conflict with the constitution," Jõks said, adding that this could happen if the vote of confidence tactic has been overused.

"However I think that EKRE has at least done everything possible to ensure that the president will not use this opportunity," he added.

"If EKRE's interest is to call for extraordinary elections, then if the president fails to promulgate a bill tied to a vote of confidence, it would look as if the president himself had the same intentions, ie. to precipitate an off-schedule election," Jõks added.

EKRE has called into question the results of the March 5 Riigikogu election which saw Reform win 37 seats at the 101-seat chamber. Together with its coalition partners Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats (SDE), the coalition enjoys a majority of 60, with three-and-a-half years to go until the next general election.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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