Center Party could add layer to plebiscite

Meinhard Pulk
, reporter
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Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Scanpix

The ruling Center Party is toying with the idea of adding other topics to the April 25 marriage plebiscite. Member of the Riigikogu Democracy Working Group Andrei Korobeinik (Center) said that the party has not gotten as far as concrete proposals yet.

“The Center Party has always favored direct democracy. More questions can be attached to the plebiscite as an item of the coalition agreement, whereas it would not affect its price or complexity,” Korobeinik said. “It is an opportunity that could be seized, but whether Center will and what will be the questions is too soon to say.”

The party is scheduled to hold a major deliberation on the matter on Tuesday, and while it is doubtful any additional questions will be decided, according to Korobeinik, it is likely to result in the party moving closer to them. “There is not a lot of time for decision-making. We have considered different questions, with the topics ranging from the environment to public administration, education etc.”

Center Party smokescreen or not?

The discussion is in such an early phase that President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas from the coalition Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) had not heard about the plan. “Provided we can find common ground and our coalition partner wants to add additional questions, we remain open to deliberations,” Põlluaas said.

Center’s plan was also news to Indrek Saar, chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE). “The rather ironically named Riigikogu Democracy Working Group is churning out surprises one after the other these days,” Saar said.

“All of it can be described as smoke and mirrors,” opposition Reform Party MP Kristen Michal said. “The goal remains the same, for EKRE to ride the wave of its political activity plan to local elections and for Center to save what little face it has left. However, regardless of what is added there, I believe it will be a referendum against a government lacking authority.”

Michal said that talk of the prime minister’s party looking to expand the plebiscite has been around for some time. “It is a valve Center can use to release in-house pressure,” Michal explained. “Let’s be honest and say that Center not being thrilled about EKRE dictating every little thing can be felt on Toompea Hill. In this situation, a few wise guys believe they can marginalize the spring vote by adding other questions. Its aim is to divert attention from other more disruptive questions.”

Michal believes that Center will likely not succeed in deluding itself or others. “Because as put by PM Jüri Ratas, building a coherent society cannot begin with a plebiscite where the sole purpose of some questions is to drive a wedge in society.”

Korobeinik does not take seriously Michal’s criticism and says that the Reform MP clearly feels the need to distract from his own party’s troubles. “The Reform Party has been thoroughly criticized for failure to coordinate the work of the opposition as the largest force therein. Kristen realizes that there is an ideological conflict inside the party but hopes he can spin his way out of it by criticizing others. It does not seem to be working,” Korobeinik said.

Presidential direct elections one possible topic

Korobeinik refuted the claim that misdirection is the aim of additional questions. “If we ask something, the goal is to gauge how society feels about it – so corresponding legislative initiatives could be introduced.”

How does Henn Põlluaas feel about additional questions potentially overshadowing the marriage plebiscite? “I do not hold it likely. It is such an important topic,” Põlluaas said, emphasizing that even though questions can be asked about other aspects of life in Estonia, the focus will remain on marriage. “They can also concern other topics, not just marriage. Once we formulate the question, it will be final. Our main goal is to secure constitutional protection for the concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman.”

As mentioned, the Center Party has not gotten as far as concrete questions yet. “I can only think of very ironical options. I’m sure Jüri Ratas wants to ask something about a coherent society,” Indrek Saar speculated.

Põlluaas proposed a topic that could work for both EKRE and Center. “One topic we like very much and that the Center Party has supported are direct presidential elections. That and the marriage issue are two very important topics and why not ask them,” Põlluaas pondered.

Korobeinik said that the coalition would discuss such a proposal by the national conservatives.

The Riigikogu Democracy Working Group has agreed that the plebiscite will be held on April 25. This needs to be approved by the parliament and requires a question to be phrased.

EKRE chair Martin Helme said that loose ends could ideally be tied up by the end of November. He said that the bill is to be handed over to the Riigikogu by next Thursday at the latest.

“Nothing will be broken if we do it in December or even January, but I believe that the faster we get it done, the better for everyone involved, including the National Electoral Service and everyone looking to pursue a campaign,” the finance minister said.

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