Estonia: what changes will happen with the legislative elections?

Carolina Duarte de Jesus, Translated by Marie-Caroline Trichet
18 Mars 2015

Today the Estonians went to the polling stations in order to elect their Prime Minister and the composition of the Riigikogu. The Reform Party which has been in power since 2005 could abandon the majority for the benefit of a pro-Russian party. The Centrist Party led by the mayor of Tallinn is on the lookout and remains in the lead in opinion polls but a coalition seems impossible. Will these new elections lead to changes?

Credit DR
Credit DR
Estonia is a small and discreet country in North-Eastern Europe, located halfway between Russia and Finland, and its historical influences are therefore diverse — this is why almost 25% of the population is Russian. It has been part of the European Union since 2004 and is amongst Europe’s most developed countries, holding leading positions with regard to civil liberty, press freedom and economic freedom.

Politically, Estonia is a representative parliamentary democracy, divided into 15 districts. The legislative elections are therefore essential in the country, as the Prime Minister is elected. In the same way, it is the Parliament, called Riigikogu, which appoints the President of the Republic as well as other high-level government officials. These elections take place every four years and 101 people are elected in total, in a proportional way. There are 876 candidates this year, and the electors can vote “in order of preference” on their ballot.

The coalition and the opposition: the current political situation

It is strange to notice that none of the four parties in power claims to belong to the left or to the right. They all proclaimed themselves as belonging to the Centre, the Centre-left, or the Centre-right.

The party with the most representatives in the Parliament, and that the Prime Minister comes from, is the Estonian Reform Party, which has a classic liberalist ideology. In power since 2005, its popularity has not weakened too much and it remains a serious candidate for the legislative elections today. It currently forms a coalition with the Social Democratic Party that entered the Parliament in 2007. As for the opposition, the Estonian Centre Party is the elections’ outsider and is close to the Russian-speaking minority. If it wins the elections, it can count on support from the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union that positions itself in a conservative liberalism that, like the SDP, has been elected in the Riigikogu in 2007 for the first time. The advocates of independence are not to be neglected as they obtained six seats with the last elections and as they regularly progress in the voting intentions.

Economy: the main issue of the campaign for the legislative elections

Estonia’s public debt is the lowest in Europe: 10.4% of the GDP — whereas the average in the European Union is 92.6% — and its public deficit is even negative, reaching -0.1%. The Reform Party claims its achievements, such as the 2.7% economic growth and an unemployment rate reaching less than 7%. All these figures speak for themselves and the candidates are more comfortable in the campaign. Thanks to these factors, and to the social factors, the country gets closer to its Northern neighbors, and it is precisely the objective of the Prime Minister Taavi Roivas who declared on January 17 that his main goal is to build a “Nordic and liberal Estonia”. “We want Estonia to be recognized as a Nordic country. A country with a Nordic standard of living and security, that leads the world, a leading country in terms of individual liberty and economic security”.

The SPD, whose leader is Sven Mikser, bases its campaign on more socio-economic measures, like increase in wages. This thematic also includes the Pro Patria Res Publica Union which wishes measures to be set up that recognize an economic security. For instance, they propose the exemption of taxes for the Estonians who earn less than €500 per month. Juhan Parts, former Prime Minister from 2003 to 2005, comes at the top of the list. Finally, the centrist party with the mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar, at its head, goes even further in terms of social measures, proposing for example a minimum wage of €1000 in order to avoid the waves of emigration that have been occurring since the 2000s. But this party, like all the other parties, is considered too close to the Kremlin, and no party would therefore be ready to form a coalition with it; they all agreed on that point.

It is finally important to note that the Defense also was a main issue during these elections, due to the numerous international relations that the country maintains, not only with the neighboring countries, but also with the European Union. Furthermore, even though more than 60% of the Estonians do not think there could be a diplomatic incident, the recent events with regard to Russia have also been discussed a lot, as there still are doubts concerning Russia’s intentions in the Baltics.

According to the opinion polls published by TNS Emor, the Reform Party would once more be at the top of the voting intentions, followed by the centrist party and the SPD. If these results are proven to be true, the centrist party is again going to be on the side of the opposition, due to the Reform Party’s refusal to create a coalition.