No. 5




Constitutional questions

  • Jüri Adams

    Jüri Adams

    Member of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 13th Riigikogu; co-author of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia

The article discusses some of the problems that have arisen regarding the constitution.

Hammering out a new constitution in committee, and drafting, ratifying and implementing it, takes much time and energy, over a year in our case, which is not an exorbitant length of time. Examining the experience of other post-communist states, we can divide them into several groups according to constitutional issues. Things went smoothest in countries with pre-communist constitutions that could be renewed, like Latvia’s. Of course it still meant addressing fundamental questions. Questions like where do we come from, where we are and where we want to go had to be discussed in many different forums.

Many countries found themselves on, or chose, a different path: writing and adopting new constitutions, one after another. Some countries are on their third constitution in ten years (Poland and others). We can make one fairly solid claim: it is impossible to be on top of every issue at one time. The kind of intellectual force that a nation pours into producing a constitution – in the form of politicians’ and lawyers’ work-hours, or farther afield, the attention of citizens – is such that it cannot be used for structural work in other fields at the same time.

Our experience was basically this: that we worked on the constitution for a long time and thoroughly, then at a certain point said, enough, and turned our attention to the practical side of reforms and other legislation.

Where constitutional amendments are concerned, there are signs that storm clouds are gathering. There are political forces that would like to push through changes that would see the head of state directly elected, since they have made the realisation that most voters, when asked whether they prefer themselves or the parliament or electoral college to elect the president, will say, we want to choose. Not that this is any great surprise. But behind this lies the desire of several individuals to repeat the path of Estonia’s prewar president, Päts.

There are also other forces who want the kind politics we have been successful in avoiding in the last ten years, specifically to muddle election day by including referendum questions on the ballot. History is filled with examples of how persons who set the referendum agenda get more votes than they would have otherwise.

Full article in Estonian