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Estonia - Election 2019

The parliamentary (Riigikogu) general election took place on 3 March 2019. A once-shining example of democratic growth, progressive e-governance policies and a hotbed for start-ups and high-tech enterprise in the post-Soviet sphere, Estonia was faced with a groundswell of right-wing populism that rattled the centrist establishment when the Baltic nations far-right EKRE took 19 of 101 parliamentary posts in March elections. The political tremors became a full-blown seismic shift just weeks later when Prime Minister Jri Ratas invited the group, which has bashed immigrants, judges, journalists, and vowed to end same-sex marriage, to join a ruling coalition in order to safeguard his own position.

By August 2018 Estonia's six major political parties were all busy issuing election promises ahead of the March 2019 parliamentary elections. The sole criterion for qualifying as a 'major' party is that it is represented in the 101-seat Estonian parliament (Riigikogu), consequently the Greens, the United Left Party, the Independence Party and others are not surveyed here. The current government is made up of three parties, the Centre Party, which makes up the greater part of the coalition with 27 seats, and Pro Patria/Isamaa (12 seats) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE 15 seats), which are the junior coalition parties,

Current Prime Minister and Centre Party chair Juri Ratas, led Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas as the most preferred candidate amongst voters in Estonia to be the next prime minister, according to an August 2018 survey conducted by Turu-uuringute AS for daily Eesti Pevaleht. Ratas was first choice for 30% of respondents with Kaja Kallas some way behind on 22% in what was shaping up to be a two-horse race for 2019. This represented a surge in popularity for the incumbent prime minister; a similar survey in June apparently had the pair neck-and-neck at 22%.

Chairman of the opposition Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Mart Helme was in third place, though with a slight fall in popularity even as his party is the only major party in Estonia to have grown in support in recent months. Mr. Helme is the preference of 9% of respondents, compared with 1112% in previous similar surveys. Junior coalition parties the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Isamaa/Pro Patria (formerly IRL) see 4% and 2% respectively for their leaders, Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (Pro Patria). Chair of the beleaguered Free Party, Andres Herkel, picked up 1% of support as the best candidate for prime minister. The ratio of those unable to name their preference was 33%.

In the run-up to 2019's general election, the major parties are on the hunt for currently uncommitted 'big names'. Political parties needed three things: money, memorable promises or slogans, and household names pulling in thousands of votes. By Serptember 2018 the parties were going through a 'new faces' phase in their media strategy, and one-by-one are picking up noted figures accordingly. The new Estonia 200 party also, unexpectedly, attracted an established politician into the fold (former Pro Patria minister Margus Tsahkna).

Artur Talvik's new party, at first called 'the Biodiversity Party', so far consisting of ecologists and green activists, was another surprise twist. Artur Talvik was a leading member, albeit not the leader, of the newest political party on the scene in Estonia, called Richness of Life (Elurikkuse erakond in Estonian). However, he is a long-established figure, having previously been at the helm of the Free Party. Subsidiarity is an approach to governance which places a stress on local organisation, reserving for central government only those activities which really cannot be conducted on a smaller scale. Richness of Life, according to most recent polls, had been hovering around 1% of support.

The ruling Center Party, which has supporters among the ethnic Russians who make up 25 percent of the population, will battle for votes against the center-right pro-West Reform Party, which advocates liberal economic policies; and the Social Democrats, focusing on social and welfare issues. Polls show the nationalist, far-right Estonian Conservative People's Party, also known as EKRE, has gained strength in recent years campaigning on an antimigrant platform.

Voters in Estonia went to the polls Sunday 03 March 2019 for a parliamentary election. Prime Minister Juri Ratas and his center-left Center Party are the front-runners, but they are expected to get some stiff competition from the far-right EKRE party, which has promised generous social spending.

Public broadcaster ERR commissioned a survey, based both on web as well as face-to-face interviews. These are the results, including margins of error:

  • The Centre Party will get between 25 and 30%.
  • The Reform Party will get between 21 and 26%.
  • EKRE will get between 15 and 19%.
  • The Social Democrats will get between 9 and 13%.
  • Isamaa will get between 9 and 12%.

This hinted at two main shifts. The first is that EKRE will double its mandates (although it won't manage much more than that and certainly won't triple them). The second, that Centre is likely to replace Reform as the largest group in the Riigikogu. This makes predicting the next government somewhat difficult, as the numbers are close enough that they might not work in any scenario.

With 451 polling stations open Sunday, Estonians had time until 20.00 to vote for their preference among the 1,099 candidates in this election, which had already seen a record e-vote participation. This boosted advance voting turnout, with 39.3% of the electorate having voted already. The remaining 40.7% can vote, including voting at home for all those who, for whatever reason, cannot make it to one of the 451 polling stations across the country.

While there are no exit polls in the Estonian general election, pollster Kantar Emor polled those who engaged in advance voting, which ran 21-27 February, and attracted nearly 40% of the electorate. The research demonstrated that Reform seemed to benefit the most from the e-vote, and did well overall (ie. advance e-votes, plus in-person votes) too. Whereas most recent polls had Centre and Reform virtually neck-and-neck, if anything with Centre slightly ahead, the Kantar Emor research gave just under 30% to Reform, but 22.3% to Centre. Taking the e-vote separately, the gulf was even higher, with 35.6% to Reform, and just 18.9% to Centre.

The center-right opposition Reform Party won the election in Estonia. The previous government, headed by the center-left Center Party, was voted out. The junior partners in the current governing coalition, the center-right Pro Patria party (Fatherland) and the Social Democrats, received 11.4 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.

Estonia's opposition Reform Party won the country's parliamentary election, pulling off a surprising [to some] upset over center-left Prime Minister Juri Ratas's Center Party. The economically liberal Reform Party secured 28.8 percent of the vote. Reform's leader Kaja Kallas is now on track to become Estonia's first female prime minister. She and her party now faced difficult negotiations to form a governing coalition.

The far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) finished third with 17.8 percent support, nearly doubling its share of the vote though still not finishing as strongly as predicted. The right-wing radicals greatly influenced the election campaign by stoking fears of a refugee crisis, which does not even exist in Estonia. It mobilizes with traditional values and stokes a fear of refugees, a fear of migration. Its platform is comparable to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) or the Freedom Party of Austria (FP). The EKRE also wants to sever ties with the West and leave the EU. EKRE and Isamaa said they want to revoke legislation allowing the legal recognition of same-sex unions. EKRE has also demanded tax cuts and measures to ban migrants from the Middle East.

Bread-and-butter issues like taxation and public spending dominated the election in the ex-Soviet state of 1.3 million people known for its IT savvy. Joblessness hovers at just under five percent in the EU and NATO member country, while economic growth is expected to slow to 2.7 percent this year from 3.9 percent in 2018.

The splintered result of the March 3 general election, in which five parties entered parliament, made for tricky coalition building. An attempt by Kaja Kallas, leader of the winning liberal Reform party, to forge a majority coalition with Ratas's second placed mainstream Centre party failed when he rejected her proposals for tax cuts. This left both Kallas and Ratas free to seek other partners to govern with.

The winning Reform party had 34 seats. Kallas -- who could become Estonia's first female prime minister -- said she would now opt for talks with the Social Democrats party, although together they would not command a majority. A europhile, Kallas had ruled out working with EKRE whose leader Mart Helme has mooted the idea of leaving the EU. Centrist President Kersti Kaljulaid said that she intended to name Kallas, a 41-year-old lawyer and former MEP, as her candidate for prime minister but has so far not provided a date.

Estonia's outgoing centre-left prime minister Juri Ratas on 12 March 2019 launched coalition talks with a far-right party that surged in recent elections in a move to prevent the winning liberals from forming a government. Ratas opened talks with the conservative Isamaa party and the far-right anti-EU Conservative People's Party EKRE, despite heated opposition within his own party. If they agree on a deal, the three parties could command a 57-seat majority in the 101-seat parliament.

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