Estonia: the Constitutional Framework

Adopted in a referendum on 28 June 1992, the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia vests legislative power in the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu shall: pass laws and resolutions; decide on the holding of a referendum; elect the President of the Republic; ratify or reject international treaties; authorize the candidate for Prime Minister to form the Government of the Republic; pass the state budget and approve the report on its implementation. Upon the initiative of the President, it appoints the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Estonia, the Auditor General, the Legal Chancellor and the Commander or the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces; upon the proposal of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it appoints Justices of the Supreme Court. The Riigikogu decides upon the expression of no confidence in the Government, the Prime Minister or individual Ministers. Upon the proposal of the President, it is entitled to declare a state of war, and order mobilization and demobilization.

The President of the Republic shall: represent the Republic of Estonia internationally; initiate amendments to the Constitution; designate the candidate for Prime Minister; appoint to and release from office members of the Government; serve as the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces; and appoint the President of the Bank of Estonia on the proposal of the Board of the Bank.

The President shall, within fourteen days after the resignation of the Government of the Republic, designate a candidate for Prime Minister. The candidate for Prime Minister shall, within seven days, present his/her government to the President, who shall appoint the government within three days. If a candidate for Prime Minister does not receive a majority of votes in the Riigikogu, or is unable to or declines to form a government, the President has the right to present another candidate for Prime Minister within seven days. If the President does not present a second candidate or if the second candidate is rejected by the Riigikogu, the right to nominate a candidate for Prime Minister is transferred to the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu shall then nominate a candidate for Prime Minister who shall present his/her government to the President. If the membership of a government is not presented to the President within fourteen days after the transfer to the Riigikogu of the right to nominate a candidate for Prime Minister, the President of the Republic shall declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu.

The Government shall resign upon: the convention of a newly elected Riigikogu; the resignation or death of the Prime Minister; the expression of no confidence in the government or the Prime Minister by the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu may express no confidence in the Government of the Republic, the Prime Minister, or an individual Minister. If no confidence is expressed in the Government or in the Prime Minister, the President may, upon the proposal by the Government and within three days, call extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu. The Government may tie the approval of a bill it introduces to the issue of confidence. If the Riigikogu does not approve the bill, the government shall resign. An individual member, faction, or committee of the Riigikogu, and the Government of the Republic have the right to initiate laws. The President of the Republic may only initiate amendments to the Constitution. The majority of the Riigikogu has the right to call upon the Government to initiate legislation desired by the Riigikogu.

The Riigikogu has the right to refer a bill or any issue to a referendum. A law, which is passed by referendum, shall promptly be proclaimed by the President. If the referendum does not produce a majority for the bill, the President shall declare extraordinary elections to the Riigikogu.

Laws shall be proclaimed by the President of the Republic. The President may refuse to proclaim a law passed by the Riigikogu; within fourteen days, he must return the law to the Riigikogu for a new debate and decision, along with his/her reasoned resolution. If the Riigikogu again passes the law unamended, the President shall proclaim the law or propose to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court declares the law constitutional, the President shall proclaim the law.

Source: Estonian Legislation in Transition: Legal Acts of Estonia, No. 1, January 1996, Estonian Translation and Legislative Support Centre.

Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Composition of Estonia's Government

Time Prime Minister (party) Parties; number of cabinet seats Political orientation Reason for change of government
Apr 1990 -
Jan 1992
Edgar Savisaar Primarily non-party Caretaker government with majority support in the Supreme Council. Savisaar stepped down because of accusations he had not anticipated the cuts in fuel supply from Russia.
Jan 1992 -
Oct 1992
Tiit Vähi Primarily non-party Caretaker government with majority support in the Supreme Council. Riigikogu elections.
Oct 1992 -
Nov 1994
Mart Laar (Pro Patria) Pro Patria, 4
Nat. Ind. Party, 3
Moderates, 3
No affiliation, 4 (as of 21 Oct 1994)
'Right-centre' oriented majority government. Vote of no confidence in Laar because of the roubles sale scandal.*
Nov 1994 -
Apr 1995
Andres Tarand (No party affiliation; later to lead Moderates) Caretaker government on same basis as above; premature elections not desired. 'Right-centre' oriented majority government. Riigikogu elections.
Apr 1995 -
Nov 1995
Tiit Vähi (Coalition Party) Coalition Party, 5 Centre Party, 4 Country P. P., 1
No affiliation, 4
'Centre' oriented majority government. Vähi stepped down because of the 'Tape scandal'. **
Nov 1995 -
Mar 1997
Tiit Vähi (Coalition Party) Coalition Party, 4 Reform Party, 4 Country P. P., 2
No affiliation, 4
'Right-centre' oriented majority government until 21 Nov 1995, when the Reform Party quit the coalition. Vähi forced to step down because of 'Real estate scandal'. ***
Mar 1997 -
Mar 1999
Mart Siimann (Coalition Party) Coalition Party, 6 No affiliation, 6 Country P. P., 2 Progress Party, 1 Centre-right oriented minority government. Parliamentary elections.
Mar 1999 -
Jan 2002
Mart Laar (Pro Patria Union) Pro Patria U., 5 Reform Party, 5 Moderates, 5 Right-wing oriented majority government. Rivalry between the Pro Patria Union and the Reform Party.
Jan 2002 Siim Kallas (RP) Reform Party, 6 Centre Party, 8 Centre-right oriented minority government. Parliamentary elections.
April 2003 Juhan Parts (Res Publica) Res Publica, 5 Reform Party, 5 People's Union, 4 Right-centre oriented majority government. -

* 2.3 billion roubles that had been obtained when Estonia introduced its national currency, the kroon, had been sold clandestinely for 1.9 million US dollars.

** Edgar Savisaar had allegedly organized the taping of conversations with other political leaders during the government negotiations in April.

*** Vähi was accused of having arranged a cheap flat for his daughter in the centre of Tallinn. Adapted from: Berglund, Sten, Ekman, Joakim, and Aarebrot, Frank H., 2004. The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe. Second Edition. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

FOR UP-TO-DATE DETAILS, see the web site of the Government of Estonia.


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