Coalition looking at sporadic minority

The fall session of the Riigikogu that kicked off yesterday promises to be nerve-racking for those involved – in addition to what is now only a slim majority on the floor, ruling parties find themselves outnumbered in the foreign affairs and defense committees. Even though rules demand the coalition make changes to committee compositions soon, ruling parties must still settle for a minority in some. This also means fewer high-paying jobs.

The faction of the Center Party already made a change yesterday: recent legal affairs committee member Olga Ivanova and Toomas Paur from the defense committee switched places. The seemingly technical move was clearly due to the board’s decision to evict Ivanova from the party last night.

The coalition needs a majority in the legal affairs committee that must put its stamp of approval on almost all draft legislation. Ivanova’s exit from the faction would have left the coalition outnumbered five votes to the opposition’s six. That is something it could hardly afford.

Tough choices

The move has also changed things for the national defense committee. The Board of the Riigikogu processed applications by Marko Mihkelson and Margus Tsahkna to leave the faction of the Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) last week. Because Tsahkna is a member of the committee, the coalition’s majority fell to five against six, whereas it is possible it will fall to four against seven should Olga Ivanova leave Center’s group.

The situation should shift toward greater balance next week as IRL now has no members in the committee. Parliamentary rules demand the party appoint a member to the committee to keep things from becoming too one-sided – IRL has two members in the economic affairs, constitutional, and finance committees. It is probable the party will have to pull a member from one of the committees.

Because the coalition only has a single-person majority in all three committees vital in getting bills to the floor, the coalition must come up with an additional member. A good source would be the rural affairs committee where the coalition currently has a two-vote majority and the Center Party has three people. It is probable the person who would have to change committees is Martin Repinski or Siret-Kotka Repinski.

The Board of the Riigikogu must make another choice concerning the national defense committee. Ivanova’s departure from Center’s group would make her the second independent delegate in the committee, next to Tsahkna. There is a tradition not to allow two independents to serve on a single committee. It is, therefore, likely either Ivanova or Tsahkna will have to find a new committee.

The coalition must also consider the future of the foreign affairs committee where it once again finds itself in a four vs six minority. Because the committee is chaired by Mihkelson, who is now a part of the opposition, the coalition must weigh whether to leave him there or bring more of its own people to the committee. Changes in the committee’s management are probably in order should it be decided not to bring in new blood to at least keep the seat of deputy chairman that pays more than that of an ordinary MP.

A game of more than numbers

Higher salary is one reason the coalition cares about committee chairman positions. A committee chairman earns around €4,400 a month, while a deputy chairman makes €3,900. The salary of an MP is approximately €3,400.

Head of IRL Helir-Valdor Seeder said that a decision has not been made regarding the foreign affairs committee. “Once it is clear how many members the coalition has, we can look at which people we need to move in which committees. Our group will probably make these decisions next week, while it requires us to negotiate with our partners. We need to make sure people are a good fit for committees in more than form,” Seeder explained.

A minority in some committees is inevitable for the coalition. The choice is whether to be considerably outnumbered in a single committee or slightly outnumbered in several. Having the same number of votes than the opposition in a committee gains the coalition nothing as draft legislation cannot reach the floor in case of a tie.
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