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Justice chancellor: Legitimate obstruction of the legislature must not be abused

Ülle Madise.
Ülle Madise. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

The opposition rightly reacted to the steam-rolling of the Riigikogu by the coalition by carrying out its filibuster, but unfortunately this developed into a full-blown attack on the constitutional order, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says.

The justice chancellor made her remarks on her social media account in the wake of a filibuster which began in late Spring/early summer and was spearheaded by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) but joined at that time by the other two opposition parties, Isamaa and the Center Party.

In Madise's opinion, the focus should be rather on on cooperation than confrontation.

"Obstruction — tabling hundreds of amendments, giving long speeches, taking breaks, and so on. — is an important tool to be used in standing up for the voters. By clogging up the Riigikogu, a bill that has a specific economic impact or is otherwise represented is opposed to a bill that is very important for a group of voters.

"This has always been the case, from forced tenant evictions to marriage referenda. At best, a compromise will be found, one which softens the perceived injustice; should this fail, then the entire electorate will be shown that there are conflicting interests, while the majority prevailed after a lengthy dispute. This tool must not be abused," she continued.

Madise stated that an attempt to halt the work of the Riigkogu from early summer to March next year would mean no legislation could get passed in the normal way, including legislation which is not controversial and/or where there is a consensus for its need (a recent example being the improvement of sick pay conditions for those expecting a child).

Madise continued that. "If the months-long obstruction, merely aimed at achieving elections on an extraordinary basis (which under the Constitution would have happened if the state budget had not passed by next March – ed.) were to be considered constitutional, this would mean such extraordinary elections taking place almost every year and would lead to the collapse of the constitutional order. In this way tying the state budget of each year and the bills that are significantly and directly related to it to a motion of confidence, would happen if there are no alternative viable options," Madise continued.

Madise noted that all political parties unfortunately have had their role to play in creating this threat to the constitutional order. "It is to be recalled that in the spring, in the spirit of 'the winner takes all, the loser loses all,' in violation of the agreed regulations and best practice codes, they (ie. the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition – ed.) began to push through laws which had a significant impact. The declaration was that 'the winner has the right to carry out their program.' This may perhaps be the case in the US or in Britain, where the role of the legislature is different, more than in a parliamentary state with an electoral system of proportional representation," she went on.

"In a consensus democracy, we have to endeavor to find the broadest possible support for sweeping changes, and to develop society step by step, so that no very sharp confrontations, or popular resentment towards one's own country, arise. The opposition rightly reacted to the steam-rolling of the Riigikogu with its filibuster, but unfortunately this mutating beyond that into an attack on the constitutional order," Madise added.

"Why did this come about? It is possible that there is too flippant of an attitude in Estonian society, which would have it that being reasonable, having consideration for others, cooperation and acceptance are considered weaknesses. This can be seen both among the supporters of both the current opposition and of the coalition," Madise continued.

She added, rhetorically, that: "What would happen if the coalition had agreed, for example, to abandon the hate speech law or, for example, halve the planned car tax rate, to avoid its possible confiscation (transfer of property for the benefit of the state - ed.) Character? Would the coalition be praised for its statesmanlike move? then Would it be praised for having strength, because strength is just flexibility, reason, and the ability to find agreement?"

Madise's original social media post is below.

As Chancellor of Justice (Estonian: Õiguskantsler) Madise is responsible for supervising the basic principles of the Constitution and that these are being respected. The office is appointed by the Riigikogu at the proposal of the head of state. If the head of state declines to give their assent to a bill a second time, the matter goes to the Supreme Court, where the state is represented by the Chancellor of Justice.

After the summer recess ended in mid-September, EKRE took up the baton again, with filibustering tactics such as tabling dozens and dozens of amendments and interpellations, and calling for 10-minute breaks in between the processing of each amendment, led to many a late-night, and even overnight, session at Toompea Castle through to the passing of the state budget bill yesterday, Friday.

Even then, this only passed because the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition responded in kind by tying it and many other important bills to a motion of confidence in itself, the government. With 60 seats at the 101-seat chamber this was not a major gamble for the coalition, while at the same time it prevented the substantive debating of the content of the bills in question – since MPs were voting on the motion of confidence and did not get the opportunity to debate the content of the legislation.

The head of state, Alar Karis, has also been pressed upon by both sides, since any decision he makes not to sign into effect a law (which has happened once this week) would be the final bar to that law entering into effect, at least for the meantime.

The current state of play has seen the opposition declare that the state budget bill for 2024 was also railroaded through the legislature in that it was processed before, and not after, other important legislation relating to and contingent upon the state budget.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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