A referendum on amending the constitution was held in Estonia on 13–15 August 1932. The draft act to amend the constitution worked out in the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament) was extremely narrowly defeated in the referendum. The issue of amending the constitution that had become the object of sharp political conflict made political relations even more acute under conditions of economic crisis, and subsequent developments created the possibilities for a coup in March of 1934. Even though there were other breaking points thereafter right up to 12 March 1934 where a different kind of development could have secured the preservation of democracy, the removal of the question of constitutional amendment from the agenda would have meant the end of confrontation on this theme.
This article examines the course of the debate on the draft act to amend the constitution and its political background in order to establish those questions that, if they had been resolved differently, would have meant the approval of the draft bill in the referendum.
The first step that could have given the political process a more positive direction would have been the earlier devaluation of the Estonian kroon. This was not done due to the ignorance of the Riigikogu’s political parties. A second mistake was dragging out the question of amending the constitution — under conditions of economic difficulties and alienation — and as its result, the number of voters who could potentially vote against the amendment grew. The main reason for dragging this question out was evidently the fact that members of the Riigikogu were afraid to lose their seats. The third reason was wrong political decisions in the course of debating the question, like the inclusion in the referendum act of the obligation to vote, and the failure to involve in the debates the extra-parliamentary political force — the War of Independence veterans’ movement, — which had acutely raised the constitutional question. Fourthly, the reason the draft act was defeated was the uncompromising attitude of the socialists who were not in favour of constitutional amendments. The fifth reason was the uncompromising attitude of the War of Independence veterans. The difference between their demands and the draft act drawn up in the Riigikogu was not so fundamental that it should have given rise to such acute and massive counterpropaganda on their part. And the sixth reason was the half-hearted propaganda disseminated by the parties in favour of the draft act before the referendum.
This is a parade of misguided decisions from the standpoint of all the participating parties, whereas not one of them wanted the result with which the process culminated — the loss of democracy. All of these reasons could have been changed and if even one of these six really had changed, Estonia’s history would very likely be different.