Factions are associations formed on the basis of the political opinions of the members of the Riigikogu. It is in factions, besides committees, that important collective positions are born. Factions develop political opinions, promote parliamentary debate and constitute the majority necessary for the functioning of the parliament.
Work in factions
At the meetings of factions, mostly the questions arisen on the basis of the draft legislation in the legislative proceeding of the Riigikogu and current political issues are discussed. For that purpose, factions invite ministers and ministry officials and heads and officials of other governmental authorities, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations and interest groups to their meetings. The Chancellor of Justice and the Auditor General also participate in the meetings. The working hours of factions are determined by the working schedule of the Riigikogu. Off-site meetings in electoral districts are also a work format of factions.
VIII Riigikogu had the greatest number of factions, nine, and XII Riigikogu had the smallest number of factions, four.
In factions, the members of the Riigikogu exchange opinions and develop common positions on Bills, matters of significant national importance, the election and appointment of persons and other decisions within the field of activity of the parliament.
Formation of factions
Members of the Riigikogu who have been elected on the basis of the list of candidates of one and the same political party can form a faction, for example, the Estonian Centre Party Faction or the Estonian Reform Party Faction.
A member of the Riigikogu may belong to only one faction, and after VII Riigikogu it is no longer allowed to change factions. The prohibition on changing factions in the inter-election period establishes a clear connection between the member of the Riigikogu who stood as a candidate in the elections and the political programme of the political party. This way, it is also understandable to voters who bears political responsibility in the parliament. At the same time, a member of the Riigikogu may leave a political party and join another and cooperate with the faction of that political party in the Riigikogu in voting.
A faction elects a chairman and a deputy chairman from among its members; the chairman or deputy chairman of a faction may not be the President or the First or the Second Vice-President of the Riigikogu at the same time. If a faction comprises more than twelve members, it has the right to elect a second deputy chairman.
Politically, membership in a faction presumes loyalty of the members of the parliament to the majority of the faction, and subjection to the decisions of the majority. This is called faction solidarity or faction discipline. Legally, according to § 62 of the Constitution, every member of the Riigikogu has a free mandate and the consequent right to vote according to his or her conscience.
Therefore, faction discipline may not grow into faction constraint because that would be in conflict with the Constitution.
Leaving a faction
It is possible to leave a faction on one’s own initiative. Also, a faction has the right to exclude a member of the Riigikogu from the faction in the case when, in the opinion of the majority, the member of the faction has gone against the ethical principles expected from a member of the Riigikogu outside the chamber of the Riigikogu.
If the number of the members of a faction falls below five, the faction ceases to exist and all members who belonged to it become non-attached members of the Riigikogu.
Factions in other countries of Europe
In European countries, different terms are used to denote the factions of a parliament. For example, parliamentary clubs in the Polish Sejm, political groups in the National Assembly of France, and parliamentary parties in the House of Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain.
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