Thursday, March 12, 2015

Estonia election 2015

An election to the unicameral Estonian parliament, or the Riigikogu, took place on the 1st of March. Usually, electoral events in Estonia are affairs focused on local affairs. However, because of the recent events in the Ukraine, elections in Eastern Europe have become contests that are very relevant throughout Europe. The Estonian election results were considered a tilt towards Europe and the West, and a move away from Russia.


Estonia has only become independent relatively recently. Until 1921, the country was under the control of Russia. From 1921 to 1939, the country was an independent republic. In 1939, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by a rigged election, but this was short lived, as Nazi Germany defeated the Soviets and won control of Estonia in 1941. Again, in 1944, the Soviet Union regained control of Estonia. This time, it was for good.

Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, Estonia became more open during the 1980s. However, many Estonians were still concerned about Russification, especially the teaching of the Russian language in Estonian schools.

In 1991, Estonia became independent. The Supreme Soviet, the rubber-stamp legislature of Communist-ruled Estonia, was democratically elected for the first time in 1990, and a pro-independence majority was elected. A Declaration of Independence and a Constitution were adopted by this parliament.

A democratic election was held in 1992, under this new constitution. Mart Laar was elected Prime Minister as leader of the conservative Fatherland Bloc. Laar's government fell as a result of a no-confidence motion two years later. He was replaced by Social Democrat Andres Tarand.

At the 1995 election, the right-wing liberal Coalition Party formed to government. The Coalition Party led the government for three years, but collapsed at the 1999 election, winning only 7 seats (out of 101, down from 41 in 1995). The pro-Russian Centre Party won the most seats, but did not form government. Instead, the conservative Pro Patria party formed a coalition with the Social Democrats and the liberal Reform Party, led by Mart Laar.

Laar was Prime Minister for three years. However, ahead of the 2003 elections, the Reform Party withdrew from government. They formed a coalition with the centre-left pro-Russian Centre Party, and Siim Kallas, the Reform leader, was elevated to the Prime Ministership.

In the 2003 elections, the Centre Party and the new right-wing Res Publica party won the equal most seats (28 out of 101). The Res Publica party formed a coalition with the Reform Party and the small centrist People's Union, and Res Publica leader Juhan Parts was elected Prime Minister.

Parts resigned in 2005, and was replaced by Reform Party member Andrus Ansip. Ansip led the Reform Party to victory in the 2007 and 2011 elections, before resigning ahead of the 2015 elections.

Why is this election important?

As we know, the Ukraine, another ex-Soviet country, is currently involved in a civil war between pro-EU government forces and pro-Russia rebel forces. Russia claims that they have no involvement with the war, but in any case, the Russian government seems to be increasing their political presence in Eastern European countries.

We saw this in Moldova, where the heavily pro-Russian Socialist Party came out of nowhere to become the largest party in the Moldovan Parliament in the 2014 elections. In Hungary, the ruling Fidesz party has become increasingly pro-Russia and anti-EU, while Czech Republic president Milos Zeman is an outspoken supporter of Vladimir Putin. Elections in Eastern Europe are increasingly becoming contests between pro-Russia and pro-EU forces.

This is where Estonia comes into the picture. Estonia has a significant Russian population, left over from attempts by the Soviets to populate it during the Communist period. This population are generally opposed to European integration, and support a stronger role for Russia in Estonia affairs. They generally support the Centre Party.

While Russia and the Soviet legacy have traditionally been significant topics in Russia, especially in the Bronze Soldier affair and questions around the teaching of Russian, the events in Ukraine and the atmosphere between the EU and Russia makes this an interesting and important election.

The results

Estonia uses a multi-tier system of party-list proportional representation, and has a 101 member parliament, which is relatively large for a country with a voting population under 1 million, compared to Australia. 

The results
As you can see from my not very good table (new office program), the Reform Party came out on top, with about 28% of the vote. Centre came second, with 25%. 

The results were a small drop for the Reform Party, which lost three seats. These losses were mostly at the expense of the new Free Party, a centre-right liberal conservative party, and the far-right Conservative People's Party. The Centre Party gained one seat, but stayed behind the Reform Party.

The Centre Party is extremely isolated in the new parliament. Before the troubles in Ukraine, other parties were willing to form coalitions with them. However, the close ties of the party and its leader Edgar Savisaar to Vladimir Putin and United Russia have created concern amongst ethnic Estonians that a Centre government will bring Estonia closer to Russia.

As a result, a Reform-led government was a certainty. The Conservative People's Party were out, because of their extremism, which left a coalition with two of the Free Party, Pro Patria-Res Publica and Social Democrats. For more information on the government formation process, here's an interesting Fruits and Votes post.

The eventual coalition was a Reform-Free Party-Social Democrat government. These parties are relatively pro-EU, and are likely to lead Estonia away from Russian influence, which seems to be the wish of the Estonian majority.

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