Political season kicks off on a strong note

At least four members of the coalition Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) got up and left as the president took the stand.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

President Kersti Kaljulaid urged MPs to trust local governments in organizing local affairs and criticized the coalition agreement’s marriage referendum scheduled to take place around the same time as local elections next year. At least four members of the coalition Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) got up and left as the president took the stand.

“It was not an action,” said deputy chair of EKRE’s Riigikogu group Helle-Moonika Helme, adding that an action would have seen the entire faction storm out during the president’s speech. According to Helme, every MP did what they felt was right in this case.

A look at local elections

EKRE MP Kert Kingo said she decided against listening to what the president had to say because Kaljulaid had endorsed Mikk Pärnits for a violence prevention award. “I had a very specific reason. Considering recent events where the president recognized Mikk Pärnits. In my view, it is an endorsement of violence,” Kingo said. “Despite the opposition having been highly critical of [President of the Riigikogu] Henn Põlluaas’ understanding of democracy, I did not see any walkouts during his speech,” said Social Democratic Party (SDE) chairman Indrek Saar. “Not that it was bursting with content,” he added.

Kingo could not comment on the president’s speech because she did not hear it.

The president touched on the planned referendum to amend the Constitution by defining marriage as between a man and a woman that is scheduled to coincide with local government council elections next year. Kaljulaid said that debating the concept of marriage does nothing to solve local problems, while it is sure to distract people from addressing local issues and will likely overshadow any serious debate for stronger local governments.

“Rural municipality mayors and councils will not be helped by local elections concentrating on the concept of family,” Kaljulaid said. “This debate works to ridicule efforts local governments have made to make sure people do not feel as an insignificant or overlooked minority where they live due to their age, illness or the fact they live in a sparsely populated area. The debate underestimates the Estonian people as it seeks to create the illusion that the referendum’s result could somehow amend the Constitution.”

Helle-Moonika Helme said that fears of the referendum distracting from local government problems are baseless. “Local government council elections are a separate matter. They deal with local issues and I’m sure all parties will address them,” Helme pointed out.

Ideological differences

Kaljulaid said in her speech that political parties’ ideologies have begun to contrast more visibly on the axis of human and universal rights over the recent decade. Treatments of the state and people’s freedoms therein are more different than they’ve been this century also in this hall,” Kaljulaid said.

The president went on to say that there has been great debate on freedoms, rights and obligations this year that helps mend fissures in society before irreversible damage is done. “If some people feel they cannot have a say in terms of what is happening in Estonia, it does not in any way benefit those who feel they can. People who are disappointed in their country need to be extended a hand, while it needs to be done in way that would not leave others disappointed in turn,” the president explained.

President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) said that while approaches may differ, parties agree that the Estonian state must try and make life better for the people of Estonia. “With enough good will and willingness to cooperate, we can make it happen,” Põlluaas added.

Elections on the horizon

President Kaljulaid also touched on presidential elections next year, saying that inaction on the Riigikogu’s part is effectively marginalizing the role of local governments. “We have knowingly taken strides to move away from the original idea of the Electoral College,” Kaljulaid said. The head of state added that after what has been a difficult year, the rest of the world seems to be one step ahead of Estonia. “This means that ten years from now, we will be looking at each other perplexed, wondering how it was Latvia and not Estonia that became a trailblazer of AI solutions. How on Earth can Poland, that until recently depended on coal, supply Estonia with green energy? Why is our economy that outgrew its northern counterparts for 30 years no longer capable of that?

Kaljulaid said that for the first time in 30 years we can see some countries that escaped the iron curtain working toward a wealthier and safer future more effectively than Estonia. “Something is wrong with our perception of the big picture. Or our ability to react to it,” the president said.

President Kersti Kaljulaid urged MPs to trust local governments in organizing local affairs and criticized the coalition agreement’s marriage referendum scheduled to take place around the same time as local elections next year. At least four members of the coalition Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) got up and left as the president took the stand.

President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas said in his speech that even though Estonia is at the forefront of offering digital services in the world, we need a fundamental and all-encompassing debate on the relationship of technology and politics and technology and the parliament. He gave the example of the recently amended Riigikogu Rules and Procedures Act that allows the parliament to hold sessions and vote remotely using a specially developed online environment. “We have spent the entire summer developing the platform and it is being tested as we speak. Only a few parliaments in the world have such e-sessions capacity and I dare say ours is the best by far. We will soon get the chance to try it out,” Põlluaas said.

The Riigikogu’s first ordeal for the fall session will be next year’s state budget bill that the government should send its way by the end of September. In addition to draft legislation to liquidate the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) and returning to amendments to the Foreign Service Act that President Kersti Kaljulaid refused to promulgate, we can expect fiery debates over bills to amend the Aliens Act, Higher Education Act and the Study Allowances and Study Loans Act that aim to introduce stricter rules for foreigners working and studying in Estonia.

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