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Estonia - General Elections

The reform party led by prime minister Andrus Ansip wins the estonian general elections

The reform party led by prime minister Andrus Ansip wins the estonian general elections

05/03/2007 - Results

With 27.8% of the vote (+10 points in comparison with the last election on 2nd March 2003), the Reform Party (RE) led by outgoing Prime Minister Andrus Ansip came ahead of its government partner, the Centre Party (K) during the general elections which took place on 4th March. The party led by Economy and Telecommunications Minister Edgar Savisaar won 26.1% of the vote. The Reform Party won 31 seats (+12 in comparison with the previous term in office) and the Centre Party 29 (+1). The Reform Party achieved its best results in the North West of the country: 37.8% of the vote in the district of Harju and 35.7% in Rapla. The party clearly asserted itself in the country's second largest town, Tartu – the town of outgoing Prime Minister Andrus Ansip with 34.5% of the vote. The Centre Party confirmed its hold on the East of Estonia, an area that borders with Russia, winning 55.2% of the vote in the district of Ida-Viru and taking the lead in Valga with 26.3% of the vote. The situation was not so clear cut in the capital of Tallinn: in the two biggest districts the Centre Party came out ahead (33.3% and 39% respectively), with the Reform Party winning in the third most important district (32,6%).

The Estonians voted as forecast by the polls. On the eve of the election Tonis Saarts, political analyst from the University of Tallinn said, "There is no reason to protest against the government; therefore we should not expect any great change. For the first time since the return of independence to the country 16 years ago the elections have not given rise to any major battles. This shows that Estonia has become stable and that it is no longer a country in transition." "No government has ever been so popular in this country before a general election," noted Rein Toomla of the University of Tartu.

Both outgoing government parties took the lead over the opposition party, Pro Patria Union-Res Publica (IRL), which, with 17.9% of the vote and 19 seats (-16 in comparison with 2003) has clearly suffered a setback (-14 points) like the Union of the Estonian People (ERL) which lost 5 points winning 7.1% of the vote and 7 seats (-7). A small consolation for the third party in the outgoing government coalition is that it won in the district of Jogeva with 30.2% of the vote. In the same district the Union of the Estonian People and the Centre Party together won 54.1% of the vote. The Social Democrat Party improved its results in comparison with four years ago by 4.6 points, winning 10.6% of the vote and taking 10 seats (+4). The party achieved its best results in the district of Voru (24.2%). Finally the Greens of Estonia (EEE) won their wager taking 7.1% of the vote. Marek Strandberg, Toomas Trapido, Aleksei Lotman, Mart Jüssi, Valdur Lahtvee and Maret Merisaar, i.e. 6 MPs, will make their debut in the Riigikogu, the Parliament in the next government. The Greens rose above the 10% mark in the district of Lääne (10,1%).

The Russian speaking parties are fast losing ground. Estonia has around 400,000 Russian speakers only 25% of whom are allowed to vote, the others being Russian citizens or without citizenship – therefore they are not allowed to take part in the national elections. The Constitution Party (KP) witnessed a fifty percent drop in its results - (1%) of the vote; the Russian Party (VEE) kept its head above water with 0.2%. "The Russian speaking parties are too marginal and do not seem sufficiently credible, even amongst the Russians themselves," maintains Tonis Saarts.

The participation rate was finally greater than at first forecast by the polls. 555,264 voters out of the 895,760 registered fulfilled their civic duty whence participation rate of 61.99%, (+ 4 points in comparison with the general elections in 2003). It is interesting to note that the increase in the participation rate is almost equal to the share of the electronic vote in all of the votes cast (3%). At first sight this might indicate that the electronic vote is an efficient means to fight against abstention. Rein Toomla insisted on the rise in the participation rate stressing that 61% was a good but not excellent result. The constituencies of Lasnamäe, Piriti and the centre of Tallinn turned out the most (70.80%) whilst the lowest participation rate was recorded in the constituency of Ida-Virumaa (53.73%).

171,317 people i.e. 19.1% of the electorate fulfilled their civic duty early 30, 275 of whom chose to vote via the internet, a world first in terms of general elections. Cyber-voters could revise their vote as many times as they wanted in the three days following their vote or finally decide to go to ballot on 4th March after all; in this instance the slip they put into the urn cancelled out their previous vote. Three times as many votes were cast electronically than in the local elections on 16th October 2005. Outgoing Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and the Pro Patria Union-Res Publica candidate running for Prime Minister, Mart Laar both voted via the internet. Only 14.5% of Estonians voted early in the general elections of 2003 but this had only been possible for three days, in comparison with eight this year.

Cyber-voters voted differently from all other Estonians tending mainly towards the Reform Party (34.5%) and placing Pro Patria Union-Res Publica second, (26.7%). Both of these parties were followed by the Social Democrat Party (13.3%), the Greens of Estonia (10%), the Centre Party (9.1%) and finally the Union of the Estonian People (3.6%).

The political community were mobilised to promote the participation of the population which is traditionally low in Estonia. "Our fathers fought to win the right to vote. By not turning out to vote we are showing our disdain and lack of respect, not only towards ourselves but also towards our parents and our ancestors. By not voting we are injuring ourselves: he who does not vote will be voiceless for four years without any right to criticize the way the country is developing. People have forgotten that the opportunity of voting in free elections is a luxury. Such indifference weakens the State because in this way only the wishes of half of the population with hold sway or at worst those of a minority," stressed the President of the Republic Toomas Henrik Ilves. "All bad members of parliament and all bad governments are set in place by those who do not vote," maintained Prime Minister Andrus Ansip.

Since the President of the Republic Toomas Hendrik Ilves had said that he would grant responsibility to the party that came out ahead as far as the formation of the new government was concerned, Andrus Ansip, who won the most votes with 22,556 votes (i.e. 4,543 votes more than Edgar Savisaar), should be re-appointed as Prime Minister. After the announcement of the first results the leader of the Reform Party said that these general elections confirmed "the clear victory of the rightwing parties," and that "the victory of the two main parties bears witness to the fact that the Estonians are satisfied with the policies undertaken by the outgoing government." He maintained that the Centre Party's project on the reform of salaries (Edgar Savisaar's party is suggesting an increase in the public sector salaries to a total of 25,000 in four years) had frightened the Estonians and provided the Reform Party with its victory. Born in 1956 Andrus Ansip studied chemistry in Tartu and gained a degree in management at the University of New York. Mayor of Tartu from 1998 to 2004, then in September 2004 Minister for Foreign Affairs and Telecommunications in the government led by Juhan Parts (Res) he then succeeded the latter as Prime Minister on 12th April 2005.

On the TV channel ETV Andrus Ansip said that coalition discussions "would be far from simple and pleasant, on the contrary they would be complicated"; he announced that negotiations would probably last one month. Indeed the Prime Minister seems reticent to renew the government coalition he had until now with the Centre Party led by Edgar Savisaar. The main bone of contention concerns taxation since the Reform Party leader wants to maintain a single tax band (that he hopes to decrease from 22% to 18%) whilst the Economy and Telecommunications Minister of the outgoing government would like to introduce a progressive income tax regime and a more generous Welfare State in order to reduce the gulf between the richest and the poorest. According to sociologist Juhan Kivirähk, it would be strange if the Reform Party did not try to form an ideological coalition. "Apart from Pro Patria Union-Res Publica there are three small potential partners who will certainly try to get into the government," he stressed. As a sign of confirmation outgoing Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said : "The electorate who voted for the main opposition party, Pro-Patria Union-Res Publica showed that they feared that our economic success would be endangered, which the Centre Party is about to do." He maintained that his programme "had more points in common with Pro-Patria Union-Res Publica than with the Centre Party." The Prime Minister will however have to find the support of a third party in order to enjoy absolute majority in the Riigikogu. The head of the list for Pro Patria Union-Res Publica, former Prime Minister (1995-1997) Mart Laar, believes given the election results the creation of a tripartite coalition bringing together the Reform Party, the Social Democrat Party and his own is totally logical. Andrus Ansip admits that the government coalition should not be restricted to the rightwing only but hopes that the left will take part in the next government. He does fear however that co-operation with the Centre Party will be difficult given that "the Reform Party absolutely does not want to ruin Estonia's economy with a salary reform." Political analyst Tõnis Saarts believes that at first at least a coalition of ideology might be born which would be the most legitimate with regard to the electorate. He also says that co-operation between the Reform Party and the Centre Party would undoubtedly be the source of a certain amount of confusion amongst the electorate. The political analyst stresses that during this term in office the Centre Party would probably have to be part of the government but not necessarily in the first coalition. Finally Rein Toomla is pessimistic saying that the Riigikogu would remain divided especially since no coalition could last more than 2.5 years.

The candidates standing for Prime Minister from the main parties - Andrus Ansip (RE), Edgar Savisaar (K), Mart Laar (IRL), Ivari Padar (SDE), Marek Strandberg (ER), Villu Reiljan (RL) and Aldo Vinkel (KD) who were invited to take part in a live debate on the radio Vikerraadio just before the elections did not dare to say with which party or parties they were planning to work after the election. Without excluding anyone they did talk of the subjects for which they would make no concessions. Andrus Ansip said that the partner that would suit his party would be the one who would help in achieving his electoral promises. Edgar Savisaar did not want to make any forecasts, "But it is not a secret that two political parties are trying to turn us into monsters and are against us," he maintained. Mart Laar stressed that the economic policy was the most important matter by far for his party. Ivari Padar promoted education and rural life, Marek Strandberg, energy and environmental security as well as direct democracy and Aldo Vinkel spoke of family values. Finally Villu Reiljan said that the Union of the Estonian People did not intend to make any concessions at all.

Few changes can be expected in Estonia after these elections which strengthened to the two main parties in power. The next government will have to find the means to fight against economic overheating which is threatening Estonia that experienced an exceptional growth rate of 11.5% in 2006; it will also have to fight inflation that forced the country to delay its entry into the euro zone from 2007 to 2010 at the earliest. By re-electing the ruling government coalition the Estonians like the Latvians in October have achieved an all time first and have shown their democratic wisdom and maturity. Their vote will help to stabilise the political arena which has seen twelve different governments since independence in 1991 – with none of them managing to last the time of one term in office. "I think that the country is now ready for this," said Andrus Ansip when speaking during the electoral campaign of the government's capacity to last. The Prime Minister holds all the cards to prove this now.

Source Electoral Commission of the Republic of Estonia (www.vvk.ee).
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Rodolphe Laffranque
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