The second Constitution of the Republic of Estonia (1934 -1937) and the coup d’etat of 1934.

The Estonian form of democracy was proving to be unworkable, and Estonian citizens were becoming increasingly dismayed by the democratic process. At the same time, the authority of the Riigikogu was declining rapidly. As a reaction to these developments, popular support for “firm hand” theories and movements, which advocated authoritarian governance, was increasing. In 1932 referenda were held to consider two draft Constitutions which aimed to restrict the power of popular representation, increase the power of government, and establish the role of head of state. This position was also to accorded real power. As it turned out, both draft Constitutions were rejected when put to referenda. Nevertheless, in a third referendum, in 1933, a further, draft Constitution put forward by the League of Veterans of the Estonian War of Independence was accepted and came into force on 24th January 1934.

This, second Constitution of the Republic of Estonia laid the foundations for the establishment of an authoritarian state order in Estonia. Membership of the Riigikogu was reduced to 50, and its powers became more formal than real. A new institution was introduced into government of the state, namely the Head of State. That Head of State, to be elected every five years, was given the right of suspensive veto over Riigikogu decisions. As the Head of State’s function was to exercise supreme power over the governance of the state, and that as the representative of the people, the holder would also control executive power within government. The Head of State was granted the right to govern by decree, which would assume the force of law, although the Riigikogu maintained the right to amend or repeal decrees introduced in this way. Thus the Head of State assumed the powers both of a head of state and of a head of government, but those powers did not extend to control of legislative affairs. Further competences of the Head of State were the nomination and dismissal of the government, and the appointment of justices to the Supreme Court. The role of the State Chancellery became administrative, serving the interests of the Head of State.

On 12th March 1934, the then Head of State, Konstatin Päts, carried out a bloodless coup d’etat, to prevent the League of Veterans of the Estonian War of Independence from establishing an authoritarian state. Though Päts did not repeal the existing Constitution he at times violated it through the exercise of excessively authoritarian rule. During most of the time when the Constitution was in force the Riigikogu was not convened, and Estonia became a single-party state. In due course, and recognising the risk to the democratic process which were inherent in the Constitution, the Head of State initiated preparation of a third Constitution of the Republic of Estonia.

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