The Vaps movement and the changing of the constitution.

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1931

Changing the Estonian constitution had been considered before: in 1926, Konstantin Päts made a suggestion to reform it, he thought that the position of the Head of State should be implemented, the number of members of parliament should be reduced, and the elections of individual candidates should be held. This suggestion was supported only by Päts's own party and was opposed by the socialist party, who had worked on the first constitution for the most. The other parties were indifferent. The question reappeared with the economic crisis, because the serious instability of the government became apparent. There was, however, too much hopes put on the "balancing of the power" and on creating the position of the Head of State. A lot of people began to believe that a strong handed leader would bring an end to the quarrels between the political parties and firmly lead the country out of the crisis.

In 1931, the Vaps movement, which soon became the most popular movement in Estonia, also started to publicly demand for a change in the constitution. Because of the rising political tensions and the seriousness of the economic crisis, most of the parliamentary parties decided to reform the constitution. For that a special committee was put together in 1932, which soon worked out the changes in the constitution. These changes saw the creation of the position of Head of State, the reduction of members of parliament to 80 and that the Head of State would form the government, which would answer to the parliament. With this change Estonia would have moved a towards significantly more presidential regime, but would have also kept a strong parliamentary role. Basically, the new constitution was a compromise between the political parties, but it was strongly opposed by the socialist party, who considered the changes too modest to bring Estonia out of the crisis and end the political bargaining. The constitution project failed in the referendum, held on August 13-15, 1932, because of the strong opposing propaganda of the socialist party and the Vaps movement. The failure of the project was a close call, with 333 979 vote for and 345 215 votes against.

In 1933 a new constitutional project was put together by the fifth parliament, which did not considerably differ from the previous one, although parliament's role was slightly increased.

This constitution was also opposed by the socialists and the Vaps movement. The public opinion had considerably changed: 67% of the voters were opposed to the project in referendum held on June 10-12, 1933. This showed people's strong discontent with government's work. Tõnisson's government had just devalued the kroon and sold the warships „Lennuk" and „Vambola" to Peru, which the government extremely unpopular. Popularity of the Vaps movement, on the other hand, was growing and their version of the constitution was overwhelmingly approved on the referendum of October 14-16, 1933. According to the new constitution, Estonia now had a Head of State, who appointed the government. The parliament's role was considerably reduced: its functions were significantly limited and its member count cut down to 50.
The new constitution was supposed to take effect in 1934, but in reality this never happened. Konstantin Päts organized a coup before that.

Source: Eesti ajalugu. VI, Vabadussõjast taasiseseisvumiseni. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2005, lk-d 86-91.


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