Coalition party Eesti 200 is convinced that an under-process hate speech law should not be linked to a vote of confidence in the government, a leading MP from that party says.
This lines the party up alongside the other junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SDE) whose leader in late November said the tying this particular bill to a motion of confidence in the government should not go ahead.
Toomas Uibo, one of Eesti 200's 14 MPs and its chief whip at the Riigikogu, told Vikerradio's "Uudis+" show Wednesday that his party is: "Certainly of the opinion that the so-called hate speech law should not be linked to a vote of confidence."
Doing so would prevent debate on the content of the bill – since MPs would be voting on a motion of confidence (as opposed to a motion of no-confidence as put forward by the opposition) in the government, on which that government would have staked its continued functioning.
Since the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition has 60 seats at the 101-seat Riigikogu, those stakes are not especially high, and the coalition has been engaging in the tactic of tying bills to no-confidence motions in many other case, in response to a filibuster from opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
However, in the case of the hate speech bill, opinions from within the coalition and proponents of the bill differ too widely, it appears, for this tactic to be used in this case.
Of the content of the bill, Uibo said: "We are also of the view that this would represent an extremely narrow version of the law, given all the concerns that people have if they say anything, then something will happen to them. A situation like that should not arise in the state of Estonia."
Hate speech therefore should Uibo said: "Constitute a very serious threat to harm someone's life and/or well-being. But if someone tweets something somewhere, then no," ie. that should not constitute hate speech in a legal sense.
Uibo added that the law itself already exists in this form today, i.e. it was adopted long ago, and the current question is the amendment of the law.
In any case, Eesti 200 does not want bills being tied to motions of confidence to become a daily occurrence, though this : "Depends upon the behavior of the opposition, whether they have the desire or not to hold meaningful discussions.
The current confidence votes are the symptom, not cause of the Riigikoguu filibuster, he added.
The leaders of all six represented parties met at Kadriorg with head of state Alar Karis on Tuesday; the president has been keen to resolved the deadlock, and has criticized the practice of tying votes of confidence to the passage of bills, on more than one occasion.
Uibo denied that EKRE chair Martin Helme had been given a clear message from president Karis that he would not be giving his assent to any further bills, in the new year, which are tied to votes of confidence; a claim that Helme had made after Tuesday's meeting.
Uibo said that: "No such warning was received directly. The president wished that in the figure, more compromises would be sought between coalition and opposition."
The president has the right to reject laws if they run counter to the Constitution, Uibo noted.
The coalition will also not bow to an EKRE demand to reverse already adopted laws; future laws are the place for discussion, not already promulgated ones, Uibo said.
In late November, SDE leader and Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets said he did not want to link the hate speech bill with a vote of confidence in the government.
While the hate speech bill passed its first reading in September after being presented in June, the same month that Estonia legalized same-sex marriage, it has languished in a gridlocked Riigikogu since then, with over 600 proposed amendments on the table.
One suggestion on these is to pick amendments representative of a category, and bundle this with all the similar proposed amendments, and vote on this.
The context of the Israel-Gaza war and the status of protests in support of either side in the conflict is also relevant to the bill.
The definition of hate speech as included in the original draft of the bill, namely "activities which publicly incite hatred, violence or discrimination /.../ in a manner likely to threaten public order" has been removed, and replaced with "activities which publicly incite hatred, violence or discrimination /.../ in a manner which gives rise to a fear that the incitement will be followed by an act of violence or pose a serious threat to the security of society," though the Riigikogu's Constitutional Affairs Committee says it expects the concept of "public order" to be reintroduced in one form or other in the bill's final version.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Madis Hindre, Urmet Kook