Parliament struggling to remember their manners

Eiki Nestor.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

As admitted by Riigikogu speaker Eiki Nestor, differences do exist between the coalition partners. At that, he urges these to be solved and the mutual communication to be kept civil, honouring one another.  

-As the coalition talks were dragging on last year and the public failed to get a clear message, out of sheer boredom they got to comparing the neckties of the three parties. Known to have hated ties as such, are you suffering from having to wear one on the speaker job? Why does one feel like a veteran deputy has turned into a tamed tie guy?

The office sets its limits. But yes, at the board of Riigikogu we are trying to keep neutral and see that minority rights be protected in the big hall also. Therefore, we are intentionally less active in the hall when it comes to speeches, political disputes, and in public also.

-Just asking as we are having these turbulent times in the society but the president is all about private life, the prime minister is mainly abroad, and then we have the speaker. From all three, one would primarily expect dedication to own nation, and standing out.

Well I do speak about what I think where possible, but these places have inevitably become fewer. Perhaps this is even becoming. Can’t indulge the gallows humour which I do terribly like. Though today I’d have been glad, after having read an article, to open a session by asking: «Anybody wants to force through a law?»  

I can’t get it! If deputies have the right to put forth bills, it’s also their responsibility before the voters. And as they are doing their job somebody up and says they are  «forcing it thru». But that’s their job, and it cannot be that if one likes a law it «was passed», but if not it was «forced thru».

-You are saying it is the speaker’s task to ensure minority rights in Riigikogu. What do you say about Reform essentially robbing the opposition of opportunity to ask questions from foreign minister Marina Kaljurand?

Important to underline that in foreign policy we have ever desired to keep harmony. Today, the coalition partners were a bit more active, yes, but this was the reaction to an inquiry on Monday where a parliamentary faction (EKRE – T. K.) members (at pains to choose his words) were not behaving in the way most approved.  

The respect could be mutual between ministers and parliament. The Monday was all but that. It was haughty, ugly, unbecoming. And, possibly thinking that the minister could have been hit the same way, they were somewhat more active in asking questions. So the impression would not be of Riigikogu acting ugly.

-Are you satisfied with the past year at Riigikogu?

No surprises. The picture became almost clear on elections night. With the newcomers, regarding one there were no question marks; it was obvious what could be coming from there and more or less that’s the way it’s been. With the other there were question marks about who and what they actually are.

-The Free?

Yes, and till today one can feel they are needing to find themselves. Classical opposition is such that the critical forces offer the government alternatives and if possible even support the government, but if needed are also ready to take governmental responsibility.

Perhaps today’s coalition is nagging somewhat more because in none of the three opposition parties do I detect the desire or ability to assume governing responsibility. Centre Party is actively living its internal life, to which they have every right. The free are seeking for themselves, and with EKRE I don’t think anybody but Edgar Savisaar would agree to form a government with them.

-Is this honest towards Estonian state and people that we have a government now which only stays together because there are no other solutions allegedly? Do we really have to suffer three more years?

Are we really suffering so? If the government is operating in great unity, they are talking about steamrollers. If the differences do show, it’s the problem that we must suffer. Which is better?

I have never considered it bad if it is clear that there are differences in the government. It’s much worse when they do argue in the room, but then go face the media smiling «we are all one».

But I do agree – the differences can be expressed in a respectful manner, honouring the partner. One needs not to make faces, yawn, or smirk.

-A look at these past few weeks, one gets the impression that the work is at standstill. Nothing but the same old topic, of which all are worn out.

Only so with one law. One more is coming – the private schools act –, awaiting political agreements. There, the debates will probably be as sharp.

But with the registered partnership act, let all be reminded that the law has been passed. The initial partners have been registered, and the statistics were a while ago that the opposite sex couples were more than same sex.

The society will peaceably receive the thing. I am totally convinced of that. The people will realise that no one will come kiss under their apple tree because the law was passed. Today, more common ground is being sought with the Free. I understand that for the initiators of the bill it was a shock that the Free were rather in the boat with EKRE, and I realise they have themselves gotten confused about how they got there and they’d be happy to get out. I heartily welcome the desire.    

-Registered Partnership Act has become a place for trickery.

Trickery isn’t the best word. But it has happened that people who go to negotiate things on behalf of the parties do need to sense very clearly where is the «red line». If as negotiators they do not sense that too well, than it does happen that in the evening there was an agreement but by the morning nothing remained of it. Hence, understandably, the upset.

-And hence the noise.

Alas, it’s so. It does also hang on the authority of chairman in own party, and on the other hand the authority never develops if the party chairman does not sense beforehand what his party supports.

It is no secret that the soc dems have the whole time been in contact with the groups in society who are the most sensitive regarding this law. That if the demands are such and such now, does it make sense at all to proceed with the law.

-Does the soc dems leader Jevgeni Ossinovski possess authority?

I haven’t the slightest need or desire to criticise anyone. He has behaved as a party chairman needs to behave. We have had the long tradition to act as one gang. In several of the complex disputes at the coalition, he has acted unreasonably prudent for his age.

-What do you feel... As the assessment comes out that a new recession is about to hit, another 600 people lost their jobs, and at the same time we get the information that Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas does official flights with private jets for €111,000. What does this say?

Hard to assess. As a message, it surely sends the people the sign of overspending. Meanwhile, the speaker of the great nation of Poland has told me after many a meeting that why do you go to that plane, come with me I take you to Warsaw and you fly on from there. Thus far I have refused.

Perhaps there are the states where even speakers of the parliament fly private jets. Not so in Estonia for which I am ever so happy. But neither do I agree with those who say that private flights are a no-no.

-Sure, but it’s indeed about the message.

Exactly. But let the voters decide what is right and what isn’t. In Riigikogu, we have our own simple rules – we fly economy class. But when it comes to the another 600 jobs lost, it is an issue much more vital and painful than the private flights.

-The political situation is special: for soc dems, the Free are the new EKRE, the Free are attacking soc dems, IRL and soc dems are at odds. Centre is rising in popularity, to say nothing about EKRE. Reform keeps mum.

It’s worrisome, but not because of the ratings. A year after elections, it makes no difference. What I am worried about is what used not to be characteristic of Estonia. A while back it could be said that the speeches in front of Toompea were tough, at times angry, haughty or upset, but what O do not like is that the speeches have moved into the Riigikogu hall. And outside of politics, the atmosphere is the same. This troubles me a lot.

I understand the fears in people of things they haven’t seen, experienced before. But we have always been helped by learning the new, experiencing the new. Not saying «no» right away. I wish we had more desire to know, to learn. And then to condemn or to understand. In our society, it bang bang: you are a fool, no you are.   

The anger based on ignorance is what I will never want to understand. This is not human. This is what shows that people do not understand they are living in a free, democratic state. I am convinced, the desire after simple decisions will not win. Most of our Estonian people are hearty, aware, practical, warm.

-For that very fear I was asking in the beginning: who are the statesmen who would help the people in their fears.

Should that be a politician necessarily... no, rather. Might be, but not necessarily. But perhaps that other side needs a leader to issue commands. Perhaps this situation is a kind of an alternative between the leader-centred world and leaderless world. Who knows.

-But back to the neckties, i.e. the bowtie... Do you want to be or are you wanted as a president?

Let the answer please be published just like this. Dear Tuuli, I’d be very thankful to you if you would write that I am a potential candidate and I am also very thankful if you write a bit the opposite. I do realise I have been mentioned for the very job of being a speaker. While there are no official candidates, the media makes its suggestions.

I have seen two kinds of presidential elections. With one, the parties sought to find a common candidate, with the other not. In the first case, we got Lennart Meri and Toomas Hendrik Ilves; with the other we got Arnold Rüütel. All told, all did well.

I sincerely think that if parties wish to cooperate, my name may come up. But it may not. I do not have tragic decisions that I want to become the president, neither the other way round – that oops I no longer want to. Having been in politics for so long, you know some things happen whether you want it or not.

Today, I do not yet detect in the parties such readiness for cooperation. With cooperation, the candidates will be more than one. With no cooperation, I will definitely be no candidate. I take it all very peacefully. This is sincere. No vanity in it.