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Uku Toom: Talk of a heavy Riigikogu workload can now be set aside

Uku Toom.
Uku Toom. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Over the four working weeks of its year so far, the government has submitted seven bills to the Riigikogu, and the talk of a heavy workload at parliament can be left aside for now. However, there are other activities at the Riigikogu that are not making any progress, writes ERR's Uku Toom.

In examining the Riigikogu's work, the question arises as to what the legislature would be doing if there were no bills from the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), even if these were empty proposals introduced last spring, during the course of organizing the filibuster.

The best example comes from just last week. There were 23 bills on the Riigikogu agenda that week. How many of these do you think were submitted by EKRE? The correct answer is 21...

There was one bill from the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition regarding the establishment of forcibly due money and fines set by the Defense Resources Board (KRA) and another from the Riigkogu Finance Committee on changes at the Bank of Estonia's (Eesti Pank) supervisory board. This last item was the only one on the agenda on Tuesday, and the corresponding session was done in 10 minutes.

Over the four working weeks of this year, the government has submitted seven bills to the Riigikogu, including several bills concerning international relations, which, generally speaking, do not take much time to process at the debating chamber.

It is clear that talk about the Riigikogu's heavy workload can thus be set aside for now. Furthermore, the work is to a large extent without results, since EKRE bills mostly get voted down (the party has 17 seats at the 101-seat Riigikogu – ed.).

It is true that the beginning of this week is set to be a bit different and more interesting, however, as the dispute about the car tax will now reach the debating chamber.

However, there are other activities at the Riigikogu which are not progressing. The departure of six members from the Center Party group has had an impact on the organizational work so far. A lot has been said about the fact that Center's faction has not been able to elect a new chief whip within the space of a month. Less attention has been paid to the fact that, under standard practice, the Riigikogu's board is headed by a member of the coalition while a deputy speaker comes from the opposition, yet after the aforementioned events, the finance committee is headed by two members of the coalition: Annely Akkermann (Reform) as chair, and as vice-chair Jaak Aab, who joined the ranks of SDE as one of those who left Center.

There are many reasons why no changes have yet been made, but the facts remain. The number of, as it were, windowsills at different committees causes complications too.

Kersti Sarapuu and Jaak Aab were previously on the same finance committee (Sarapuu is now sitting as an independent MP – ed.). Now that neither of them are in the Center Party anymore, the Center faction sent Andrei Korobeinik there, yet Aab and Sarapuu are still in place too, at least for the time being.

This means 13 members are on the committee, whereas others usually have 10 members.

One theme that can be discussed through to the end of March is the Riigikogu's board and the situation with the second deputy speaker.

Now that Jüri Ratas (who is currently the second deputy speaker – ed.) has quit the Center Party for Isamaa, the circumstances have changed to an extent, though not by much.

Ratas still represents the opposition (Isamaa and EKRE are the other two opposition parties – ed.) but not its largest parliamentary group (which belongs to EKRE – ed.).

It has been expressed here and there that Ratas will retain his place on the Riigokgy board. This is of course possible, but it is much more likely that the status quo here will not be preserved.

Let us look at the vote distributions. EKRE presents its [Riigikogu board] candidate, with 17 votes behind it, while it is more than possible that they will also be supported by the six remaining Center MPs, who do not wish anything good to happen to Ratas.

Isamaa has 10 votes following the Tõnis Mölder incident.

If we assume that the six members who left the center party will also vote for Ratas, which is by no means certain, then seven votes are still lacking.

These should come from the coalition. However, these generally have no reason to have any love for Ratas; neither the Reform Party nor SDE, whom he declined to join. And I can't imagine Eesti 200 playing any games at all.

The only reason to vote for Ratas could be a desire to prevent EKRE leader Martin Helme from getting on to the board, and then getting up to any mischief.

This would however come into question only if a new and major quarrel arises in the near future. However, if everything remains calm, as it has been since the start of this year, or if EKRE nominates another candidate for the board, Henn Põlluaas (a former speaker – ed.) or whoever, this will serve to reduce the coalition's desire to join forces, the Reform Party's style has generally been to amass as many votes as possible for its deputy chairman.

The game is on, but nothing is clear yet.

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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Andrew Whyte

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