Opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has appealed to President Alar Karis over the coalition government's tying of bills to votes of confidence. EKRE has expressly asked the president not give his assent to the bills in question.
The party addressed a letter to the head of state Thursday morning, and is thus joining the other two opposition parties – Isamaa and the Center Party – in appealing to the president to resolve the current impasse at parliament.
While EKRE has been engaging in a filibuster of legislation, the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition has tied voting on bills to a vote of confidence in the government.
While with a majority of 60 at the 101-seat chamber means that votes of confidence are likely to pass in any case, MPs, however they vote, will be doing so on that motion rather than the content of the bill, meaning the bill would pass often without having being substantively debated on.
EKRE wrote: "We state that the Riigikogu opposition has remained within the limits of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia and the rules of procedure of the Riigikogu in its obstruction of government bills."
That obstruction has involved tabling large numbers of amendments to legislation, in one overnight Riigikogu session with a 10 minute break between each amendment being presented.
"We have used the mechanisms permitted under the law, to pressure the coalition and the government to seek a parliamentary compromise with the opposition parties. The governing coalition has not initiated substantive negotiations with the opposition, and they have not responded to any of our various proposals," the statement continued.
"Essentially, it is a situation where parliamentarianism in Estonia has ceased to exist and the constitutional order of the Republic of Estonia is no longer valid," the address adds.
The practice of tying votes of confidence to bills has become a norm, rather than exception, EKRE says.
Votes of confidence, as opposed to no confidence – the opposition is preparing one of these in respect of the government – are a "violation of the principle of representative democracy," the letter continued, according to "the annotated edition of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia."
EKRE says it is calling on the president to place a limit on the activities of the government coalition, and not to promulgate those laws adopted via the confidence vote route – most recently a raft of seven bills relating to the 2024 state budget.
EKRE states that this would be "the only way to make the government coalition respect the legislative and democratic frameworks that our parliamentary system imposes on every coalition," and to direct it towards compromise.
As noted, Isamaa and Center have already appealed to the head of state over what they refer to as a steamrolling of the legislature by the executive.
The recent seven bills (link in Estonian) tied to confidence votes all pertain to the 2024 state budget. While this has passed its third reading, two more readings are required before the state budget can enter into law, assuming the president gives his assent, with six full weeks to go till parliament breaks up for Christmas (parliament does not convene next week).
The matter can carry over into the new year, but if the state budget does not pass by March, the Constitution provides for extraordinary elections to be held – something which has never been done since Estonia regained its independence 32 years ago, and a goal which some commentators say EKRE is in fact aiming at.
In June, the president, in the presence of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), criticized the practice of linking bills to confidence votes, and said he would not tolerate it indefinitely.
The summer recess followed, after which EKRE, though not Isamaa and Center, continued with the filibuster which had begun in late spring.
President Karis has not publicly responded to the appeals from EKRE, Center or Isamaa.
One constitutional expert pointed out that if the president were to step in, this might act against principles of balance, as it may either aid EKRE in its presumed goal of pushing for elections on an extraordinary basis, or give the impression that the head of state was facilitating this.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi