No. 39



Legislative Drafts Providing for Direct Election of the President of the Republic in the Riigikogu 1993–2016

05 June 2019


RiTo No. 39, 2019

During the last 25 years, the Estonian legislation has been characterised by frequent and fundamental changing of the laws.  At the same time, the Constitution of Estonia has been amended very little, only for five times.

Amending our Constitution has been made very complicated and it requires large inter-party consensus in the parliament. This survey article discusses the initiating of and the course of legislative proceedings on the legislative drafts amending the Constitution that provide for direct election of the President of the Republic in the Riigikogu in 1993–2016. The author of the article reaches the following conclusions:

1) The rigid regulation of amending the Constitution raises the question about its conformity to the principle of democracy (resp. the will of the majority of the people). The need to amend the Constitution arises from the principle of national sovereignty, the human ability to learn, and the fact that political decisions are reached through discussions. In post-Communist European countries, the experience of amending the Constitutions has generally been positive, considering the development of democracy, and confirms that, as a general rule, the amendments have helped curb the executive power and promoted human rights. Direct election of the President of the Republic is a popular idea with the people. Allegedly, in 1991, at the time of the drafting the present Constitution, as many as 70 per cent of the population supported direct election of the President of the Republic. According to the surveys conducted by the market research company “Turu-uuringute AS” in 2000 and 2006, far more than half of the respondents supported the idea. A web poll conducted by the Institute of Society Studies in 2016 showed that nearly 78 per cent of respondents supported the option of electing the President of the Republic themselves.

2) Since the signatures of at least 21 members of the Riigikogu are required in order to initiate amendment of the Constitution, for example, a larger faction alone or several smaller ones together can initiate that. An individual member of the Riigikogu or a small faction on its own are precluded. The requirements for amendment of the Constitution set out in Chapter 15 of the Constitution do not allow the opposition of the Riigikogu alone to legalise direct election of the President of the Republic. The decision requires a large inter-party consensus in order to be accepted; when disagreements arise, the Bill is soon dropped. It is noteworthy that the process of the proceedings on the Bills on direct election of the President of the Republic is similar to the attempts to legalise public initiative in the Riigikogu – the opposition in the Riigikogu submitted the relevant Bill; on three occasions (in 1995, 2002 and 2003), the whole coalition or the majority of the political parties represented in the Riigikogu made the initiative. Among the political parties represented in the Riigikogu, legalisation of direct election of the President of the Republic has had a wider support than legalisation of public initiative; in various times, many political parties have supported the idea of direct election of the President of the Republic.

3) Analyses of the procedure for election of the President have pointed to various shortcomings, but the necessary corrections have not been made. The last presidential election in 2016 also demonstrated the problems in the current procedure. The Riigikogu that was fragmented into several factions was not easily capable of finding the necessary consensus. Simplification of the election procedure is justified, but the recent proposal to elect the President only in the electoral body would not significantly change the general bases for electing the President (election directly by the people).