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Estonian Political Parties

Party Seats in 2007 Seats in 2011
Reform Party 31 33
Centre Party 29 26
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union 19 23
Social Democratic Party 10 19
The 101 seats in Parliament are allocated through an extremely complicated system based on the principle of proportionality. Essentially, seats are dealt first based on individual vote totals, and then to parties which have received at least 5% of the total votes cast. Following tradition, the President gives the party which wins the most seats the first opportunity to form a coalition government. He is not required to do this by law.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's center-right coalition sought re-election in March 2011. If it succeeded, it would be the first administration to serve two consecutive terms since independence in 1991. Opinion polls predicted Ansips center-right Reform Party and its coalition partner, the conservative Pro Patria Res Publica Union, should gain a comfortable 54 percent of the vote. But victory was far from certain. A poll cited by the Estonian Public Broadcasting organization found 44 percent of voters were undecided on the eve of the vote. With almost all the votes counted by 05 March 2011, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's Reform Party headed to win 33 seats, while its partner, the Pro Patria and Res Republica Union, is set to win 23 seats. That gave their coalition a 56-seat majority - a gain of six seats. The main opposition Center Party won 26 seats and the Social Democrats won 19 seats. Six other parties failed to win any seats. Voters rewarded Mr. Ansip's government for pulling Estonia out of a deep recession without turning to the European Union or International Monetary Fund for help. On Sunday 6 March 2011, the elections for the 12th Estonian Parliament were held. Nine parties contested the 101 mandates available in the elections, four of them gained the required five per cent vote threshold to qualify for the distribution of mandates.

Estonia's center-right Reform Party narrowly won parliamentary elections in 2007, with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip predicting tough talks on forming another coalition government. Official results gave the Reform Party 31 seats in the 101-seat parliament. Its current coalition partner - the leftist Center Party - had 29 seats. Another conservative party, Pro-Patria and Res Political Union, won 19 seats. None of the two Russian-speaking parties won enough votes Sunday to take seats in parliament. Many Russian-speaking Estonians complain of discrimination.

The Estonian Reform Party is a neo-liberal and free market party led by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. Reform had four other ministerial posts in the cabinet before the 2007 election (Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice, and Population) and won 19 seats in the 2003 elections. Since 2003, defections from other parties have gave Reform an additional four votes in the Parliament. Reform staunchly supports strong trans- Atlantic ties, bilaterally with the United States and through NATO. PM Ansip and other prominent Reform politicians have consistently expressed their support for Estonia's troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. While cautious, Reform has generally shown a pragmatic side in its dealings with Russia, especially in regards to improving cooperation on trade, transport infrastructure, and law enforcement.

Based on its performance in the 2005 local elections and recent polling data, in 2007 Reform was expected to become the biggest center-right party in parliament. Reform's campaign touts Estonia's strong economic growth (almost 12% GDP growth last year), commits to continue income tax rate reductions, and pledges not to establish a tax on reinvested corporate profits. Reform was also reaching beyond its traditional base by promising to implement policies which support working mothers and promote higher national salaries. Reform was projected to spend $1.65 million on its campaign in 2007. Most estimates indicated the party will win 25 to 30 seats. Reform was competing with the Center Party for the most seats in parliament. Ansip and Foreign Minister Urmas Paet held the first two spots on Reform's list of candidates. Also in the top ten were Defense Minister Jurgen Ligi and Tartu Mayor Laine Janes.

The Estonian Center Party is a populist, center-left party led in 2007 by Minister for Economy Edgar Savisaar. Center had over 10,000 members, held four other ministerial posts in the cabinet (Social Affairs, Education, Interior, and Culture), and had 28 seats in parliament. Since that election, eight MPs left the party and one joined, giving Center a net 21 seats. Officially, Center is a socially liberal party, but its 2007 campaign promised demonstrate a largely populist bent. Its political base is primarily pensioners, the working class, and Russian-speaking voters. Center maintains the largest and most formidable political machinery in the country, which is particularly effective in outreach to Russian-speaking communities.

Center spent close to $1.7 million on its 2007 election campaign. The party prioritized raising the minimum wage, increasing retirement contributions and fees, improving and expanding social services to children and young families, and replacing the current flat tax with a progressive tax. Center Party had a formal cooperative relationship with the United Russia party and party leaders have tended to be more conciliatory on divisive issues between ethnic Estonians and Russian speakers. Most estimates indicated Center would win somewhere between 25-30 seats in the 2007 elections. Savisaar topped Center's list of candidates. Others in the top ten included Chairman of the Parliament Toomas Varek, Minister of Education Mailis Reps, Head of the Northern Tallinn Administration (and Savisaar's wife) Vilja Savisaar, and Tallinn Mayor Juri Ratas.

The People's Union Party is an agrarian party represented by former Kolhoz (farm collectives), ex-Communist party officials, and large-scale farmers. It is led by former Environment Minister Villu Reiljan and held three ministerial posts in the cabinet (Environment, Agriculture, and Regional Affairs) and had 14 seats in parliament. People's Union's devotes little time to foreign policy matters, although the party has been skeptical of Estonia's involvement in foreign military operations in general. During the December 2007 Iraq Mandate renewal debates in the parliament, People's Union MPs were among the most vocal critics of Estonia's presence in Iraq.

In 2007 polls suggested People's Union may struggle to receive enough votes to win any seats in parliament. However these polls tend to under-represent rural voters, and most politicians expected People's Union to be represented in the new parliament, albeit with fewer seats than in at present. People's Union's campaign targets the have-nots in the booming economy with a slogan, "Equal opportunity for all." The party planned to spend $800,000 on the 2007 campaign. The People's Union election list included Villu Reiljan, Minister of Agriculture Ester Tuiksoo, Minister of Regional Affairs Jaan Ounapuu, and MP and faction leader Jaanus Maanik.

The Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) was founded in June 2006 from the merger of two opposition center-right parties. Both are neo-liberal, free market parties. However Pro Patria, one of Estonia's oldest parties, is better known for its nationalist positions. Res Publica was established only in December 2001 as a "protest party." The IRL has a combined total of 35 seats in the Riigikogu. Since 2003, three MPs left the IRL, leaving it with 32 seats in Parliament. As a center-right party, the IRL is competing directly with Reform for seats in parliament. The IRL is campaigning on values -- with particular attention to social issues (e.g., health care, education, and declining demographics). Like Reform, the IRL is a strong supporter of the EU, NATO, and the United States. The IRL traditionally has a more "hawkish" attitude towards Russia, although this has not been a focus of the 2007 campaign.

While Pro Patria's support has been steady since 2003, Res Publica's popularity has plummeted. According to 2007 polls, the IRL was likely get fewer seats than the two parties currently hold. The party planned to spend around $1.5 million on its campaign. Most estimates indicated IRL will win 15-20 seats. Mart Laar sat at the top of IRL's candidate list as its candidate for Prime Minister. Others in the top ten included: former Tartu University Rector Jaak Aaviksoo, former PM Juhan Parts, Deputy Speaker Ene Ergma, and former Chief of Defense Forces Tarmo Kouts.

The Social Democratic (SDE) Party is a center-left party led by MP Ivari Padar. The SDE had six seats in parliament and three seats in the European Parliament. Since 2003, defections from Center gave the SDE three additional seats in Parliament. The SDE's former leader, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was elected President in September 2006 (and so officially resigned from the party). The SDE campaigned in 2007 on expanding social services, particularly for young families and working mothers. The party's support comes mainly from professional, educated, and urban Estonians. The SDE's foreign policy is pro-EU and NATO. While supportive of Estonia's soldiers in Afghanistan, the SDE remained deeply divided over Iraq.

With Ilves as President and its other more prominent members serving in the European Parliament, the SDE's electoral prospects in 2007 rested on lesser-known members. The SDE's 2007 campaign budget of $500,000 was the smallest of the five main parties. Most estimates suggested the SDE would get between 10-15 seats. The SDE's party list included Party Chairman Ivari Padar, MP and former Defense Minister Sven Mikser, Member of the European Parliament Katrin Saks, MP and former Deputy Speaker Peter Kreitzberg, and MP Eiki Nestor.

The Estonian Greens were established in November 2006 and fielding 101 candidates in the 2007 elections. The most well-known member is Party Chairman Marek Strandberg. The Greens' platform includes protection of Estonia's natural resources, combating climate change, innovation in alternative energy, promotion of direct democracy, and conservative fiscal policies. The Greens were polling well in 2007 since announcing they would participate in the elections. However, a February 2007 poll indicating 11% support, surprised most election watchers. People speculated that the Greens may attract some of the "protest vote" that went to Res Publica in 2003.

Of the five minor parties running in the 2007 election, the most interesting was the Constitution Party (CP), which represents Russian-speaking voters. The CP is the successor of the Estonian United People's Party (EUPP), which held six seats in the parliament in 1999-2003. The party was competing directly with Center for the votes of Russian-speaking Estonians -- a battle the EUPP lost in 2003 when it only got 2.2% of the vote. CP leader, Andrey Zarenkov, was campaigning aggressively -- complaining about a revival of Nazism in Estonia and Estonian language requirements.

Estonia does not have any influential ethnic Russian parties. For the last decade neither ethnic Russian parties nor Russian-speaking politicians have appealed to local Russians. In 1995 and 1999 Russian speakers managed to win seats in parliament with the Russian Unity Party and United People's Party. Support for these groups has since disappeared and neither party is active. The Russian Party of Estonia (RPE) was the only ethnic Russian party to run in the October 2009 local elections (although its chairman also headed an electoral bloc - see below). The party is not represented in Parliament and therefore receives no financial support from the state. They lack money for a strong election campaign and survive only from donations by a few active members and leaders, who refer to the party as their "hobby."

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