Election preview: Estonia

The first election of the year in the European Union will be held on Sunday in Estonia, one of the EU’s smallest and more successful members.

At the last election, four years ago, six parties won seats (there is a 5% threshold for representation, but no other parties were even remotely close to it). In the lead was the Reform Party (liberal, pro-market) with 30 seats, followed by the Centre Party (also liberal, but more populist and pro-Russian) with 27, the Social Democrats (centre-left) 15, Pro Patria (centre-right) 14, the Free Party (also centre-right) eight and the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE, far right) seven.

Reform, who had been in government since 2005, formed a coalition with the Social Democrats and Pro Patria, and prime minister Taavi Rõivas continued in office. But after a year and a half of deteriorating relations his coalition partners decided to switch sides, and supported a no confidence motion to bring down the government. Centre Party leader Jüri Ratas took over as prime minister in November 2016.

The three governing parties had 53.7% of the vote between them last time, for their total of 56 seats. The opinion polls suggest they are unlikely to reach a combined majority again; Centre is tracking in the high 20s, slightly ahead of its 2015 vote, but the Social Democrats and Pro Patria are both down around 10% or less.

The Free Party looks certain to drop out altogether, but a new centrist party, Estonia 200, is close to the threshold to enter parliament; if it makes it, it could be a possible coalition partner. The Greens are also within sight of the 5% mark.

In opposition to Ratas’s government are Reform, which is hovering around a quarter of the vote, and the far-right EKRE, which – as in much of the continent – has seen the most growth and is now polling a clear third, with around double the 8.1% that it got last time.

Elsewhere in Europe you might think that a far-right ethno-nationalist party would be a natural ally for a pro-Russian party. But not in the Baltic states, where Russia is the hereditary enemy: being a nationalist necessarily means being anti-Russian, and opposed to greater rights for the country’s ethnic Russian minority, who amount to about a quarter of the population.

So even if it returns a substantial parliamentary delegation, it seems unlikely that EKRE will find many allies. Most probably, Centre and Reform will again be competing to attract the support of the smaller parties to put together a majority coalition.

Voting is proportional (D’Hondt) within each of 12 multi-member constituencies. Since a large number of voters have already voted electronically and Estonia isn’t very big to start with, counting should be pretty quick. Check out the electoral commission’s English-language site on Monday morning.

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