Kaljulaid proposes extraordinary elections in case of referendum ‘no’ answer

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: Elmo Riig / Sakala

President Kersti Kaljulaid turned to Riigikogu parties on Monday and proposed tying the planned marriage referendum to a vote of confidence in the Riigikogu. This would mean holding extraordinary parliamentary elections should the people say “no” to the referendum question of whether marriage needs to remain a union between a man and a woman in Estonia.

"The plan today is to hold the referendum as a matter of national significance that entails no political responsibility whatsoever. If most MPs really feel the matter is so urgent to warrant a referendum at this time, the responsible thing to do would be to tie it to a vote of confidence. My proposal is to terminate current proceedings and consult the people on the concept of marriage in the form of a bill pursuant to section 105 of the Constitution. It would constitute a vote of confidence in the current composition of the Riigikogu,” the president said.

The president said she understands the Riigikogu majority wants a referendum on the concept of marriage. Kaljulaid finds that the Estonian Constitution offers such an opportunity in section 105 that allows a bill or a matter of national significance to be put up for referendum.

“It would be fair treatment of voters and a step toward restoring trust in and dignity of the parliament and politics. The Estonian people want to be proud of their Riigikogu and I urge you to give them reason to be,” the president said in her address to MPs.

MP Tõnis Mölder (Center Party) said that the president has gone beyond her station and that he sees no way for the coalition to support the proposal.

“While I cannot speak for all Center MPs, I deem it unlikely the proposal will be supported. My personal opinion is that the president’s step sends her in conflict with the principles and rules on which the Estonian state is built. We have a parliamentary country where decisions pertaining to such processes are made by the Riigikogu,” Mölder said.

Head of the Isamaa Riigikogu group Priit Sibul also does not see holding extraordinary elections in case of a “no” answer as realistic. “We have turned to other parliament parties on several occasions to introduce the constitutional amendment. They were not interested nor did we see any such interest when the coalition agreement was signed. Since then, we have been talking about a matter of national significance as opposed to an amendment when it comes to consulting the people on this matter,” Sibul said.

Proposal comes too late

Mölder believes that the president’s proposal follows her desire to see the current Riigikogu dissolved. “Not liking the parliamentary majority does not give her grounds to seek new elections. I do not regard it good practice. The Center MP added that the president’s proposal of holding the referendum based on section 105 of the Constitution is hardly new. “It is a possibility in the law, while that has not been the will of the Riigikogu majority,” Mölder said.

He also pointed out that Kaljulaid should refrain from making such statements because of how presidents are elected. “Estonia goes through certain elections motions every four years. Comparing the Riigikogu and the president, every MP has a mandate from the people. The president does not. It is highly regrettable that she is seeking to put the Riigikogu in a position where it could be forced to dissolve under these circumstances. I believe there was no need to make that proposal today.”

Has the president gone beyond her station? “Yes, the president has clearly meddled in current politics. She has done it before, but this is directly interfering with the parliament’s work. And we cannot consider it appropriate,” Mölder replied.

The Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee chairman added that Kaljulaid’s proposal also came at the wrong time. “It seems the president’s proposal comes too late. Had she taken the time to concern herself with her country instead of going on vacation (to Switzerland – ed.), her proposal would have fit into the correct time frame and afforded the opportunity to properly analyze it.”

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) described the president’s proposal as incomprehensible. “What is this initiative aimed at? A referendum on minority rights or marriage? Whatever the case, it is a forceful step into everyday politics by the president. If one says A they must also say B. Every statement by the president carries weight, which is why it would be fair to tell the people which bill she aims to put up for referendum,” Ratas wrote on social media on Monday.

Opposition open to the idea

Chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) Indrek Saar said that the president’s initiative is welcome, while it requires willingness to cooperate from the coalition. “It is good that the president is trying to come up with a compromise,” Saar found. “If the coalition is willing to accept the proposal, we stand ready to discuss lifting obstruction,” he remarked.

How likely is the coalition to heed the proposal? “Considering everything we’ve seen from the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), it remains doubtful whether there is any desire to compromise,” Saar said, adding that hope remains.