No. 4




A parliament without parties: The 6th Riigikogu, 1938-1940

  • Mati Graf

    Professor of history of the Tallinn Pedagogical University

With the 1938 Constitution, Estonia attained a two-chamber parliament consisting of a State Assembly (Riigivolikogu) and a State Council (Riiginõukogu). Its term was five years. The State Assembly was a house of deputies that had 80 members elected from a list of names on the basis of relative majority, from one-mandate constituencies. It adopted laws, approved the state budget and controlled the Government. The State Council was the passive house of the Parliament. It did not have the right to make law by itself, as all legal acts only became law after being reviewed by the State Assembly.

In the elections to the State Assembly held on February 24-25, 1938, the so-called builders of the new Estonia achieved a majority, as expected. Fifty-four seats out of 80 were occupied by the candidates of the People’s Front for the Implementation of the Constitution, who were joined by 10 independent members of the State Assembly. Together with two independent fellow nationals, the Russian who had got into the State Assembly under the colours of the People’s Front formed a Russian group that became generally loyal to the People’s Front, and therefore the number of people loyal to the Government grew to 66. The opposition had 14 seats. It included two former Central Party members, Jaan Tõnisson and Ants Piip, two former small landholders, Oskar Köster and Rudolf Penno, and two former soldiers of the War of Independence, Oskar Lõvi and Eduard Peedosk.

A feature of the State Assembly was that its groups (factions) existed only de facto. On 6 March 1940 Oskar Gustavson made a remark in the daily Päevaleht, saying that the State Assembly had been working according to provisional rules of order for two years, which meant that the State Assembly groups did exist in reality, but no one had actually officially recognised their existence.

Viljar Peep points out that the draft rules of order for the Riigikogu written by the board of a general meeting of the Riigikogu on 13 April 1939, which have been preserved in the State Archive, do not contain any provisions on either groups or a elders’ council. In fact, the institution of a court of honour provided by the Constitution was actually included in the (provisional?) rules of order (at the 2 April 1940 general meeting of the Riigikogu), but as there was no more time left, it was never carried out in practice.

The views of the officially non-existent political parties and party mentality still came to the surface in the officially depoliticised Riigikogu. “Although officially there were no political parties as such in the Parliament in 1938, they did exist, both on the elections as well as later within the Parliament itself,” said Otto Pukk (Deputy Speaker of the Riigikogu, and Speaker as of 17 October 1939) in 1945. According to his words, there were formally groupings of parliamentary cooperation in the State Assembly that were in essence political parties.

Full article in Estonian