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Estonia - Election 2007

On 30 November 2006 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called elections for the Riigikogu for 4 March 2007. The country had joined the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004. It had been enjoying a booming economy with GDP growth reaching 11.5 per cent in 2006 supported by its high-tech industry. Since its adoption in 2002, the Riigikogu Election Act was significantly amended in 2003, 2004, 2005, and in 2006. Recent amendments included provisions for electronic voting by internet and the prohibition of outdoor political advertising during the campaign period.

In the last elections held in March 2003 the Res Publica and the Reform Party won 29 seats each. In April Mr. Juhan Parts leader of the Res Publica formed a coalition government comprising the Res Publica the Reform Party of Mr. Andrus Ansip and People's Union. However Prime Minister Parts resigned in March 2005 following a vote of no confidence against the Minister of Justice Mr. Ken-Marti Vaher whose proposal for a controversial anti-corruption bill triggered a stalemate in the Riigikogu.

In April 2005 Mr. Ansip of the Reform Party formed a new coalition government with the Centre Party led by Mr. Edgar Savisaar Estonia's first prime minister following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Estonian People's Union (R) a small agrarian party. The three parties reportedly disagreed on economic policies but Prime Minister Ansip maintained the pragmatic coalition until the 2007 elections.

In the 2007 elections 11 political parties endorsed a total of 975 candidates. They included two political parties representing Russian minorities. Approximately 7 per cent of the 1.34 million-strong population of Estonia still hold a Russian passport and another 9 per cent (mainly people of Russian origin) had no formal nationality. Neither group is allowed to vote.

The election campaign officially started on 23 January 2007, after the registration of candidates, and lasted until the day before election day. The campaign was generally lowkey and was mainly conducted via advertising in the mass media, small-scale meetings and events, and door-to-door campaigning. There were few major political rallies. For the most part, the parties concentrated their attention on domestic political issues such as economic policy, demographic indicators, increased resources for education and health care, and social inequality. Issues such as citizenship and the use of Russian language in public life were not a major focus of the campaign. However, there was considerable discussion regarding the issue of the Bronze Soldier monument, which stood in the centee of Tallinn.

There is no provision for free air time for political advertising during the election campaign. Political parties wishing to place advertisements must do so in the private media, as all advertising is prohibited on public television and radio. Private broadcasters granting time to a political party or candidate are required to grant similar opportunities for other election contestants. Apart from advertising, private electronic and print media are largely unregulated with respect to elections and election campaigns.

The opposition Res Publica and the Pro Patria merged in June 2006 under the new name of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) co-led by Mr. Tnis Lukas and Mr. Taavi Veskimgi. The Reform Party pledged to maintain the country's flat tax and enhance market-friendly policies. Prime Minister Ansip called for voters' support for his party pledging further economic growth. Stating that his party's programme was compatible with the IRL's a possible post-election coalition could not be ruled out. The Centre Party which has been supported by the Russian minority pushed forward a progressive tax system and promised to provide a better welfare system. Mr. Salvisaar pledged to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. The Moderates' Party which changed its name to the Social Democratic Party (SDE) in February 2004 was led by Mr. Ivari Padar. The SDE promised to provide better education. The Estonian Greens (EER) formed in November 2006 also fielded candidates. It was co-led by Peeter Jalakas Valdur Lahtvee Maret Merisaar and Marek Strandberg.

Internet voting was used for the first time with approximately 31 000 voters casting their ballot on the Internet. In all 61.9 per cent of the 897 000 registered voters turned out at the polls up from 58 per cent in the 2003 elections.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observed the polls. It praised the democratic and transparent nature of the election process. While acknowledging significant efforts made by the Estonian Government to naturalize and integrate persons without citizenship it encouraged further steps to facilitate citizenship for such people.

The elections to the Riigikogu (parliament) reflected the democratic practice and tradition that have become characteristic of the electoral process in Estonia. A meaningful democratic exercise was underscored by the registration of an array of political parties and independent candidates, the conduct of the campaign, and diverse viewpoints expressed in the media. The election administration at all levels carried out its work transparently and effectively, and enjoyed a high degree of confidence from political parties and civil society.

The final results gave 31 seats to the Reform Party 12 more than in the 2003 elections. The outgoing coalition secured a total of 66 seats in the 101-seat parliament. No parties representing the Russian minorities passed the threshold of five per cent to win a seat.

The newly elected Parliament held its first session on 2 April 2007 and elected Ms. Ene Ergma (IRL) who had served as Speaker of the Riigikogu between March 2003 and March 2006 as its new Speaker with 91 of 101 votes.

After the elections however Mr. Ansip announced a new coalition government comprising his own Reform Party which won 31 seats the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) (which took 29) and the SDE (which won 10 seats). The new government was officially sworn in on 5 April.

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