The Ministry of Justice is preparing amendments to the Political Parties Act. While the forced dissolution of parties that have received criminal penalties has been discussed, both the ministry and the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu believe that initially, milder measures should be considered.
At the beginning of the year, the Riigikogu received a collective petition proposing that parties should be forcibly dissolved for corruption crimes. The topic has been discussed several times by the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee. At the latest discussion in November, the committee concluded that forced dissolution should be a last resort, and other means of punishment should be found first.
Liisa Oviir, the head of the Political Parties Financing Supervision Committee (ERJK), pointed out that several pan-European institutions believe that parties should only be forcibly dissolved if they pose an existential threat to the existing constitutional and democratic order.
"Forced dissolution of a party is an extreme measure that can only be applied in extreme circumstances. And it is absolutely in the interest of democracy that any forced dissolution for ideological reasons is excluded," said Oviir.
Oviir agreed partly with the initiators of the petition, stating that the issue needs to be addressed and the discussion is essential.
"Let me remind you that the ERJK was created in 2011 precisely in response to societal expectations following political corruption," Oviir added.
In preparing amendments to the Political Parties Act, the Ministry of Justice has not discussed the forced dissolution of parties. However, Justice Minister Kalle Laanet said it is planned, as such a proposal has come from the Constitutional Committee.
"We must definitely look at which crimes justify forced dissolution. It can't be so that just any minor criminal offense leads directly to the forced dissolution of a party as a legal entity. Striking a balance is very important because if there is no balance, other political forces might use it to achieve their own goals," Laanet explained.
Election coalitions do not share parties' obligations
Ants Frosch, a member of the Constitutional Committee from EKRE, emphasized that it is much more important to focus on electoral alliances, which currently are subject to very different rules than parties.
"The main problem with election coalitions is that, legally speaking, they are associations with practically no responsibility. There are many examples of corruption in local governments and relevant suspicions. Citizens primarily interact with how local governments are run. And there are risks in terms of how public procurements are handed etc. It is all lower-level compared to the central government and often gets overlooked by anti-corruption efforts," Frosch said.
The justice minister also talked about the need to equalize regulations for electoral alliances and parties.
"They do not have to disclose their financiers. These obligations are not equivalent; parties have greater obligations than electoral alliances," Laanet pointed out.
Laanet's vision is that election coalitions should also have a reporting obligation.
However, discussions to amend the Political Parties Act include milder measures, such as granting more rights to the Political Party Financing Supervision Committee.
"The main idea is that the ERJK would have the ability to ask for more data based on which they can get a clearer picture of whether there is potential illegal financing or not," Laanet explained.
Another measure for preventing party-related crimes would be identifying affiliated organizations. Laanet said it is difficult to explain what these precisely entail.
"Following the last parliamentary elections particularly, affiliated organizations are understood as those that somehow help a party implement its politics, whether through conducting studies or in other ways. The question is how to prove the connection between an organization and a party," the justice minister said.
Laanet questioned whether the Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK), which shared its research results with parties to help shape election campaign messages, would fall under the category of an affiliated organization.
"When someone offers you something and you haven't actually asked for it or paid for it, how can you say that you are immediately connected. This is where the discussion is, how to set a marker so that everyone understands the same way what is allowed and what is prohibited?" Laanet noted.
The third major topic is reducing state support for convicted parties.
"Currently, if a legal entity, i.e., a party, is convicted by a court, it cannot receive full state support. There are different levels of how to regulate this," Laanet explained the planned changes.
Convicted politicians and parties have different rights
In the Constitutional Committee, Helir-Valdor Seeder, the leader of the Isamaa faction, drew attention to the fact that if serious discussions begin about the forced dissolution of political parties, it is essential to legally define what happens to the members of a dissolved party.
"This decision cannot be left to the Political Party Financing Supervision Committee or anyone else. It must be legislated, especially in cases where a party is represented in parliament, to determine what happens next. We know that in parliament, a group of MPs and an individual have slightly different rights, powers, and opportunities to exercise parliamentary democracy. Currently, our legislation does not address this. Therefore, it definitely needs to be elaborated," Seeder stated.
Seeder also noted that he has been asked why different approaches are taken with a convicted politician and a convicted party.
"If a natural person is criminally convicted, they cannot engage in active politics at the state level and must relinquish their parliamentary mandate or ministerial post. However, if a party is collectively criminally convicted, it can continue with state administration."
Editor: Marcus Turovski