On 3 March, Estonian citizens elected 101 new members to the XIV Riigikogu in the 2019 general election, 13 of whom received a personal mandate. Just over a month later, on 4 April, only 92 of those elected were present to give their oath of office as MPs on the day of the first sitting. Where were the rest? And who had taken their seats?
The so-called "class photo" taken on the day of the first sitting of a new Riigikogu is more snapshot of a dynamic makeup than a document of anything static. Already the Estonian parliament's makeup has changed since the election results were finalised, and during its four-year term, it will change and change again.
In the new makeup's first months, the first major changes to the lineup will take place once the new government is appointed, as an MP may not simultaneously serve as a member of the government. Other changes may follow in connection with the 2019 European Parliament elections taking place in late May, as several MPs recently sworn in are running for election to Estonia's six seats, and the makeup will surely be shuffled once again following the next local elections in 2021.
Pursuant to the Riigikogu Election Act, complaints regarding election results may be submitted to the National Electoral Committee (VVK) within three days of the election, after which the latter has five business days to resolve them. Should a complainant not be satisfied with the committee's decision, they may appeal to the Supreme Court of Estonia within three days. The country's top court, in turn, has seven business days to rule on any appeals.
Once any and all appeals have been resolved, the VVK registers those elected to the Riigikogu, and the election results are deemed to be declared on the date following the publication of the VVK's resolution in the Riigi Teataja gazette. This year, the committee registered the elected members on 28 March.
Certain double-duty not allowed
Likewise pursuant to the Riigikogu Election Act, if an elected candidate holds an office at the time the election results are declared which is incompatible with the office of MP, they must notify the VVK within five days of the declaration of the results whether they wish to take up their seat in the Riigikogu or decline their mandate in favour of remaining in their current office.
According to the VVK, among positions incompatible with the office of MP are government positions, mayor or municipal mayor, positions in foreign states, EU institutions or international organisations, MEP. And this explains where nine of our elected MPs went.
Two elected members waived their seats, earned via personal mandate no less, in order to continue serving in the current European Parliament — the Centre Party's Yana Toom, who earned the fourth most votes of any individual candidate, and Reform's Urmas Paet, who earned seventh most.
Several also gave up their mandates in order to remain serving in local government positions, including Maardu mayor Vladimir Arhipov (Centre), whose seat was passed on to sumo wrestler-turned-politician Kaido Höövelson.
"If an MP has given their oath of office at the inaugural sitting [of the Riigikogu], their incompatible position or service is deemed concluded," the Chancellery of the Riigikogu told ERR News. "Naturally they can resign as MP later as well, but they cannot automatically return to their previous position."
While former Tallinn mayor Taavi Aas (Centre) was elected to the Riigikogu via district mandate, Estonia's capital city on 11 April swore in his successor Mihhail Kõlvart, who passed on a personal mandate in the Riigikogu earned with 17,150 votes. Mr Kõlvart's result in the 3 March election was second only to Reform Party chairwoman Kaja Kallas' 20,072 votes, and yet still nearly double Centre chairman Jüri Ratas' 9,702. The new mayor's seat went to Erki Savisaar.
While it may have seemed like there was plenty of time — an entire month — between Election Day and the first sitting of the Riigikogu to get everything in order, the turnaround time between the official declaration of the election results and the first sitting, which was convened by President Kersti Kaljulaid, was actually fairly short.
"Just how much time there is between the declaration and the inaugural sitting is not written into law; that depends on when the inaugural sitting takes place," the Chancellery said.
According to the law, the inaugural sitting must take place within ten days of the declaration of the election results, and the later it takes place, the more time the Chancellery has as well.
"This time it just so happened that we had less time, as the inaugural sitting took place fairly soon after the declaration of the election results due to the president's schedule," they explained.
In addition to convening the new Riigikogu's first sitting, the President of the Republic opens it with a speech as well, and so she must be present.
"This did put more pressure on the Chancellery to get its preparations done in time, but it wasn't anything insurmountable either," they added.
Nine pass on mandates before inaugural sitting
Within this time, the National Electoral Committee had registered a total of nine substitute, or alternate, members, to replace Vladimir Arhipov (Centre), mayor of Maardu, Vadim Belobrovtsev (Centre), deputy mayor of Tallinn, Urmas Klaas (Reform), mayor of Tartu, Mihhail Kõlvart (Centre), Tallinn City Council ex-chairman and newly elected mayor of Tallinn, Lauri Laats (Centre), Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa), Urmas Paet (Reform), MEP, Vladimir Svet (Centre), city district elder of Central Tallinn, and Yana Toom (Centre), MEP.
While many elected members indicated ahead of time that they would be passing on their seats, according to VVK Public Relations Adviser Kristi Kirsberg, this gesture would not be binding until they had first officially received their powers as MP, ie the day after they had been registered by the committee.
Elected members were given until the day before the inaugural sitting to make their final decision.
Who would replace a member giving up their seat, however, is also determined ahead of time.
"The National Electoral Committee likewise confirms the list of alternate members with a resolution," Ms Kirsberg said. "An alternate member can come from either an electoral district or a party's national list. And yes, if an alternate member declines, a new alternate member is assigned in their place."
Once the new Board of the Riigikogu is elected at the inaugural sitting — in this case now President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), First Vice-President of the Riigikogu Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa) and Siim Kallas (Reform) — it is henceforth responsible for any further decisions regarding alternate members.
Vote magnets work
Asked whether parties' use of so-called "vote magnets," ie candidates who run for election knowing they will pass on their seat in favour of remaining in their current office or taking up another one altogether, is in any way a problem, the Chancellery of the Riigikogu responded that its Sittings Department does not feel as though this practice creates any extra work for them.
"Resignations from office constantly come up, and registering new alternate members isn't time-consuming at all," the Chancellery said.
Asked the same, Ms Kirsberg responded on behalf of the National Electoral Committee that it is up to political parties themselves to draw up their candidate lists.
And so while several voter favourites may have ultimately, even predictably, passed on their mandates in favour of remaining in local government or Brussels, or are likely to opt for the latter should they be elected to the European Parliament in May, they at least served to guarantee their respective parties more seats in the new Riigikogu.
How many of those currently seated will remain through the end of the term of the XIV Riigikogu will be seen in four years.
Editor: Aili Vahtla