Why Should Estonia Restore the Right to Call for Referenda?


Meie hiljutisel ringreisil viibides sain Saaremaal olles kirja ühelt ajakirjanikult, kes soovis rahvaalgatuse teemal ajalehes The Baltic Times avaldamisele tuleva artikli tarvis intervjuud teha ja küsis, kas leiaksin aega, et telefoni teel või kirjalikult küsimustele vastata. Kuivõrd eelistan oluliste asjad korral alati ajakirjanikele vastata kirjalikult, et jääks täpne jälg, mida ja millises kontekstis ma ütlesin, vastasin, et võin püüda hilisõhtul leida aega, et tema küsimustele vastused saata.

Nii tegingi, kella 23 paiku õhtul, olles jõudnud läbi lõputuna näiva vihmasaju sõita Saaremaalt Pärnusse ja sealt edasi Võrusse. Aga kui ajakirjanik saatis mõne päeva eest artikli lõplikul kujul ülevaatamiseks, siis avastasin, et minu vastustest oli kasutatud vaid mõnda lauset ning põhiosa artiklist moodustasid teiste inimeste selgitused selle kohta, miks rahvaalgatuse taastamine ei oleks tegelikult hea mõte. Et minu poolt inglise keeles kirja pandud vastused lihtsalt tühja ei läheks, siis olgu need vähemalt siin välja pandud.

1. How might the national vote, where the majorities voice prevails, influence the situation of minorities and their rights?

For some reason many people who talk about democracy and claim to be promoting it seem to forget or keep quiet about the fact that at the heart of the idea of democracy is the very basic principle that society ought to be ruled according to the will of the majority of people. The corollary of this principle is that minorities need to accept and respect majority rule even if they dislike the decisions that it brings about. Of course the rule of the majority is not and should not be absolute, and this is why the constitution sets forth fundamental rights and freedoms, which guarantee all people – including minorities – rights that have to be respected no matter what. These guarantees are just as important to limit the decisions made by representative bodies as they are to set limits on the decisions that people make directly.

2. If initiating national vote by the people would be possible today, what would be the first 3 topics SAPTK would like to raise for a vote?

Naturally, we as a conservative group would like to use the possibilities of direct democracy to defend moral, political, social, cultural and economic principles that are dear to us. But what is more important is that the right to call for a referendum should be available to all citizens and civil society movements on an equal basis so that everyone could benefit from this possibility, no matter what their beliefs or convictions. Also, ideally the possibility that people can call for a referendum should lead to a situation where the parliament respects the will of the people and does not take actions that offend the principles that people hold dear. As such, the availability of the right to call for a referendum should discipline representatives and therefore support and facilitate the proper functioning of representative bodies.

3. Do you feel the politician you vote for Riigikogu in the last elections is not representing your interests well enough?

The person I voted for is not even a member of parliament, so she cannot represent my interests at all. And even if the person I voted for were a member of parliament, she would form less than 1 per cent of all the deputies, which means that she would not be able to force any decisions on her own. Still more important is to realise that the relevant question is not whether a particular deputy represents one or another citizen well, but rather whether the parliament as a whole serves the people well. Unfortunately, very many people feel that the interests, beliefs and values of the nation are not represented well enough and that the ruling parties are more and more ready and willing to disregard the will of the majority. However, it is hardly surprising, considering that the parliamentary deputies of ruling parties represent only about 16 per cent of the electorate and about 24 per cent of those who participated at the latest parliamentary elections. This means that a small fraction holds a lot of power in Estonia and that in turn explains why the governing parties are not at all fascinated by proposals aimed at restoring the mechanisms of direct democracy, since it would obviously weaken their positions by empowering civil society.

4. Should Estonia be more like Switzerland in terms of the forms of democracy?

Our idea is not to copy the model used in Switzerland or any other country. Instead, we have worked hard to discuss and to develop a rational and well-argued understanding of a solution that would best fit the needs of our society and the contours of our political traditions. To a large extent we have based our proposals on the solutions that were written into our first constitution of 1920 and the second constitution of 1933, both of which were very democratic and contained a clever combination of direct and representative mechanisms of democracy. However, these solutions too had their weaknesses, for example by limiting the field of application of the right of referenda too broadly, which ought to be avoided.

In the end the whole problem boils down to whether we really want to be a truly democratic country or not. We are convinced that democracy is not the only acceptable form of government and that aristocracy and monarchy are just as legitimate alternatives. But we are just as determined that there should be a harmony between the ideals that are stated as the foundation of our political system, on the one hand, and the political reality that we find in the face of our political organisation, on the other. If we really aspire to have a democratic political system, it does not suffice to persuade ourselves that we have one. Whether we do or do not have a democratic system is rather determined by facts and first of all by facts relating to the possibility of the people to decide over the kind of society they want to live in.

The worst solution of all is the one that currently prevails and deepens – namely a situation where the ruling class talks all the time about democracy, but does it primarily to obscure the fact that almost all important decisions are made by a very limited number of  powerful interest groups so as to enforce a narrow ideological vision. Under such a system the rhetoric of democracy serves primarily as a guise to an oligarchic form of government.


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