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Direct Democracy in the Baltic States

Institutions, Procedures and Practice in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania


Edited By Evren Somer

Over the last decades, provisions for direct democracy have increasingly been added to new constitutions around the world, including in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Using a comparative legal approach, this book identifies a large set of direct democratic instruments in the Baltics that are being activated either automatically, by public authorities or by the citizens. Although direct democracy should empower the people to share state power and to take political decisions over the heads of their representatives, the results of its practical use between 1991 and 2014 do not confirm these assumptions. Besides informal aspects there are many procedural obstacles in each country that restrict not only the use of such tools but also the chance that the referendum will pass.
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III. The legal framework and practice of direct democracy in Estonia


A. Direct democratic instruments in Estonia

Direct democracy is not new in Estonia. At the national level, the right of referendums and even of citizens’ initiatives were already provided for in the 1920 constitution, but in 1935, the interim president KONSTANTIN PÄTS abolished these provisions from the constitution, leaving only the provision of the presidential plebiscite.55 At the end of the 1980s, as disengagement from the Soviet Union was underway, Estonian direct democracy underwent a revival. The implementation Act of the 1992 Constitution also contained provisions for quasi-citizen-initiated referendums, but only for a limited time of three years.56 The wave of transition was not strong enough to maintain it beyond this period.

Today, it is true that the current constitution requires the supreme power to be exercised by citizens with the right to vote by electing the Estonian Parliament [Riigikogu] and through referendum.57 However, a referendum as it has been framed in the new constitution can only be activated automatically or top down (see Table 1).58 The constitution still does not provide for referendums initiated by citizens. The people (around 903,000 enfranchised citizens59) are introduced into the decision-making process as an additional veto player as long as there are parliamentary plebiscites or referendums that are required by the constitution.

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