Riigikogu off to a rocky start

Chairman of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas (middle)

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Parties were unable to avoid a skirmish during the opening sitting of the fall session of the Riigikogu yesterday when chairman of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) criticizing the opposition and the president in his speech caused Reform Party MPs to storm out.

Members of the opposition took offense when Põlluaas said Estonia has a tradition to gift the new coalition 100 days free of criticism, which he feels the current government was not given.

“There were no 100 days, spring or summer free of criticism. The tradition was overlooked by the opposition, the press and the president who soon after declaring the 100 criticism-free days period on April 24 told the foreign press she hates an Estonian parliament party (EKRE – ed.),” Põlluaas said.

Festive mood quickly dissipated

If MPs usually just refrain from clapping after a speech not to their liking, six opposition Reform Party MPs decided to march out of the Riigikogu hall during the speaker’s speech.

“On a day like this, the start of the fall session, the speaker should speak for the entire parliament. What happened today was party political point-scoring,” said Yoko Alender, one of the MPs who stormed out, after the sitting. Joining Alender were Liina Kersna, Heidy Purga, Marko Mihkelson, Taavi Rõivas and Heiki Kranich.

Põlluaas said that his message was to urge cooperation and that it is unfortunate the Reform Party did not like that. “It is apparent they have no capacity for taking criticism. It is a shame they did not hear what I went on to say when I recommended the coalition and members of my own party strive toward greater balance,” the Riigikogu chairman said.

In his speech, Põlluaas looked back to Konstantin Päts and the silent era in Estonia. “Political opponents were muzzled and kept out of the loop. Head of State Päts went beyond his mandate and the Constitution when he took control of the state. Political administration was characterized by authoritarianism and a presidential order,” Põlluaas said. EKRE politicians have often accused President Kersti Kaljulaid of misusing her mandate and going against the Constitution, with the portion of the speech making up part of the reason Reform Party MPs decided to storm out.

Põlluaas said he mentioned Päts as 2019 marks 100 years of Estonian parliament, which is why a look back is in order. “I hope we are wise enough today not to allow something like that to happen again,” he explained.

Two language bills

The political circus put on by members of the coalition and the opposition raises question in terms of the Riigikogu’s ability to discuss serious matters. Making matters worse was Isamaa MP Üllar Saaremäe when he presented a coalition bill for a “broad-based Estonian-language development plan” toward the end of the opening sitting. Saaremäe said the bill tasks the government with drawing up a detailed plan for universal Estonian-language education.

At the same time, the Riigikogu is set to vote on a bill by the Reform Party for a switch to Estonian-language education. “They believe it (the bill – ed.) somehow gives them the right to vote against our plan tomorrow,” Alender said. “It is a farce”.

Chairman of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas remains optimistic and believes things will settle down. “It has been rather quiet after the failed no-confidence vote against the PM. Major turbulence is behind us and I hope the Reform Party can accept its place in the opposition. And think more about cooperation. That is the only way this will work,” he said.