The first Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (1920 - 1933)

The first Constitution of Estonia which was adopted on 15th June 1920, and entered into force on 21st December 1920, established the state order of Estonia as that of a democratic republic, whereby supreme power was vested in its citizens. The Constitution reflected Rousseau’s principle of national sovereignty. In accordance with the ideas of Montesquieu, power was split between the legislative, executive and judicial functions. Nevertheless, the relationship of these powers was misbalanced, the single-chamber Riigikogu, of 100 members, exercising total control over executive and judicial power, whereas it should only have exercised a legislative function. As the government did not enjoy independent, executive authority, it was subordinate to the Riigikogu.

This imbalance of power had serious consequences for Estonia which began to manifest themselves in the form of political instability, and there was frequent change of government. Ultimately, it impacted fatally on Estonia’s democratic order. As the Justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by the Riigikogu, questions also arose as to the independence of judicial power. The Constitution did not provide for a Presidential role. The Constitutional Committee of the Constituent Assembly had proposed the creation of a President and head of state who would have been elected either by the Riigikogu or by a number of qualified electors, but not by universal suffrage. Such a presidential position would also have had extensive authority. When put to the Constituent Assembly, this proposal for a semi-presidential, state order was rejected by a small number of votes. As a result, the institution of a head of state with special authority was not established in Estonia. Instead, the function of the head of state was assumed by the head of government.

A particular feature of the state order of Estonia was the extensive attribution of power to its citizens. The Constitution allowed for public initiative and for referenda, an uncommon constitutional arrangement in Europe at the time when it was enunciated. It might even be claimed that the state order of Estonia, as reflected in the 1920 Constitution, which combined parliamentary-dependent authority with the direct power of its populace, represented the most democratic order anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, however, its democratic provisions prevented government from properly functioning. Instead of taking initiatives, the government was almost permanently in a state of defence.

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