POST-ELECTION ANALYSIS: Ansip's Resignation Set Stage for Reform's Success
On one level, nothing earth-shattering happened in Estonia's European Parliament elections. All four major parties got one seat, one of the parties got two seats and the popular independent candidate was re-elected. That was pretty much predicted for months before the May 25 election day.
On the other hand, these elections produced three things that were odd.
For one, it seems to be 2005 all over again. The Reform Party was supposed to be a tired, devalued brand, mired in scandals. Many breathed a collective sigh of relief when Andrus Ansip, the longest serving PM in Europe, finally stepped down earlier this year. Now Reform has come roaring back, Ansip himself was at center stage with 45,037 votes Sunday - the most popular politician in the country - and is now flanked by youthful leadership (Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and Ansip's freshly elected fellow MEP Kaja Kallas, who received 21,504 votes).
Two, the Center Party didn't get two seats, as the final round of polling suggested, but it accomplished one of its goals, getting an ethnic Russian MEP - Yana Toom, who had 25,263 votes - laying the groundwork for its own symbolic change of leadership. Of course, Toom's politics and past statements may make her one of only two national MPs who may be more divisive and unpalatable to urban and educated Estonian voters than party leader Edgar Savisaar himself, and she will be sure to be scrutinized before she is accepted.
Three, with the European election seen as a preview of the 2015 general election, the Social Democrats pulled off a second disappointing election performance in a row. They came last of the big four parties in the total vote count. Although they are the party that is the most unblemished by scandal and Estonia is considered long overdue for a swing to the left, they will have to work hard to translate the general sympathy into votes. And they will apparently have to do the hard work being a nuanced bridge between communities. Immediately after Toom was elected, there were comments that the Social Democrats' freshly elected MEP Marju Lauristin, herself the child of 1940 communists but an Estonian patriot who received 26,871 votes, could hopefully tame Toom's more radical side. That's a tall order, given that the other MEPs interviewed said flatly they didn't think they could work with Toom.
Whether it intended the outcomes or not, Reform Party has a hand to play in all three developments, with the Ukraine crisis arguably also raising the stakes and forcing Center to show its true colors. In particular, the decision on the part of Ansip to step down as PM, the selection of a youthful replacement, and forming a government with the Social Democrats (i.e. keeping their ideological rivals closer than their ideological allies IRL) earlier this spring now looks even more like a brilliant move.