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President Kaljulaid proposes political compromise to parties: Make referendum a binding vote of confidence

12.01.2021

President Kersti Kaljulaid addressed all of the factions of the Riigikogu this evening with a proposal to make the planned referendum on the definition of marriage a binding vote of confidence for the parliament. This would mean that if the referendum does not pass, new parliamentary elections will be proclaimed.

In her letter to the parliamentary factions which President Kaljulaid sent out this evening, the head of state stressed that according to § 1 of the existing Family Law Act, marriages in Estonia are contracted between a man and a woman. “The planned referendum is designed to reconfirm that fact without it being clear what the consequences will be if it returns a different result,” President Kaljulaid remarked. “Since polls have indicated that the majority of people in Estonia consider it neither important nor necessary to hold such a referendum at this point in time, in my view it would make sense to invest the time and money being spent on organising it on resolving the coronavirus crisis that is wearing society down.”

However, the head of state also remarked in her letter that she understands that it is the will of the majority in the Riigikogu to hold the referendum on the definition of marriage. The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia allows for this: § 105 enables a draft law or other national issue to be put to a public vote. “At the moment the plan is to conduct the referendum as a national issue, but one to which no political responsibility is attached,” President Kaljulaid noted. “If the issue truly is one that the majority of members of parliament consider to be of such national importance that they deem holding a referendum on the matter unavoidable, the honest thing to do would be to underpin it with political responsibility. My proposal is to suspend the ongoing proceedings and to present the question on the definition of marriage as a draft law as made possible by § 105 of the Constitution. By its very nature, this would render the referendum a vote of confidence in the current parliament.”

In accordance with § 105 of the Constitution, a law passed in a referendum is immediately proclaimed by the President of the Republic. However, if a draft law put to a public vote does not receive a majority of votes in favour, the President instead proclaims extraordinary parliamentary elections.

“This would be the fairest approach in regard to voters and a step in the right direction towards restoring trust in and the dignity of the parliament and politics,” President Kaljulaid advised in her address to the members of the Riigikogu. “The people of Estonia want to be proud of their parliament, and I call on you to give them good reason to be.”

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