Most political parties have lost members recently

Toomas Sildam's interview with Kristina Kallas. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Following the Riigikogu elections last spring, political parties have lost more than a thousand members - the only parties to have increased their memberships are the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Estonia 200.

The favorite parties of those switching parties are major government parties - the Center Party and EKRE.

Following the Riigikogu elections, the highest number of new members have entered the ranks of EKRE and the Center Party, but EKRE is the only parliamentary party to have more members right now than the party did a year ago - by June 4, it had gained 125 people.

There is a significant number leaving the Center Party - altogether 554 people left the party since the election. However, as just over 500 people decided to join the prime minister's party during the same period, the balance in terms of members remained negative by approximately 50 people. 

Over the year, the highest number of people have left the largest opposition party, the Reform Party, which saw 657 people leaving the party during that time. At the same time, 90 people have joined the party, which is around the same level as that for the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE), the coalition Isamaa party and the non-parliamentary Estonia 200.

Both leading government parties also stand out in terms of the number of people switching from one party to another - the Center Party gained 40 such members, while EKRE won over 35.

A total of three people left the Center Party and then rejoined after some time. 
While EKRE gained 35 members from other parties - with five Social Democrats deciding to join EKRE - the party itself was narrowly the greatest donor to other parties, giving up 24 members in this way. The most popular choices of EKRE members were the Center Party and Isamaa. Two people who left EKRE also returned after a while. 

Of the ruling parties, Isamaa is in the worst position - next to the coalition partners, it stands out with the fact that it has lost the second highest number of members after the Reform Party.

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said the number of members is not a goal in itself for the party. "The time of mass parties in Estonia and elsewhere in Western society is over and therefore new forms of cooperation are being created as to how people can contribute to society. This is how Isamaa works as well," Seeder told Postimees. 

On the other hand, EKRE stands out for the fact that more than 500 people have joined the party since last year's Riigikogu elections.

Siim Pohlak, a member of the party's board and leader of the Riigikogu group, said: "Most of them do not want to be involved in politics themselves, but their membership is intended to express support for the national conservative worldview."

But why are opposition parties not attractive to newcomers?

SDE leader Indrek Saar said: "In general, when a party is in opposition, there are always those who find another area or party where there is more opportunity to exercise power." He noted the decline of political parties is a general trend. 

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said: "Our 'misfortune' is, of course, that our roster is very long - we have a lot of good people. When attracting politicians to one's ranks, the question always arises as to how they can stand out among us."

She highlighted Riigikogu members Marko Mihkelson (Reform), Annely Akkermann (Reform), Yoko Alender (Reform), Kalle Laanet (Center), and Vilja Toomast (Reform) as successful examples of people who had crossed the floor.

While support for the Reform Party remains high, the SDE in the role of the little brother of the opposition is vocal, but their supporters do not seem to notice - the party's rating is consistently below 10 percent, and barely 8 percent in the last three to four months. They are also the smallest parliamentary group in the Riigikogu.

However, the SDE stands out in terms of those who left the party. In January, judge Helve Särgava switched from SDE to the Center Party, and was elected deputy head of the Tallinn city council already in March. At the beginning of May, however, Annika Vaikla, the deputy rural municipality mayor of Viimsi, and Raimo Tamm, a member of the rural municipality council, who ran for SDE in the local elections, opted to join the Center Party. 

Former minister and Viimsi rural municipality council member Urve Palo also left SDE. "From the perspective of Viimsi, if the Center Party is in the coalition and in power in Tallinn, it is beneficial to Viimsi. It will definitely be easier to cooperate in the field of transport, for example," Palo said. 

At the beginning of June, Anastassia Kovalenko, the deputy head of the SDE group in Tallinn city council, announced that she was leaving the party, citing dissatisfaction with the party's direction last year. 

Recently, a year passed since Jevgeni Ossinovski handed over the baton to Indrek Saar as the leader of the Social Democrats. Saar said the style of the party can be debated, but in his opinion, there is no reason to be ashamed of the role in the opposition of both the capital and the Riigikogu of the one drawing attention to shortcomings.

"It is a matter of taste," Saar said. 

However, he noted as the local elections in 2021 are close enough, competitors have become very active in recruiting new members. Statistics show that although there are twice as few people leaving the party as in Isamaa, for example, there are also fewer people joining. 

Swimming against the tide is Estonia 200, only founded in 2018, which last year managed to gain state support via the electoral support of 4.4 percent of voters. In a year, their membership has risen by 30 people; the absolute numbers are not large, but they stand out among both large and micro-parties. 

Estonia 200 leader Kristina Kallas said: "We have indeed received an average of one membership application per week since the end of the year. The reason is people's growing dissatisfaction with the political situation, as the hope of change compared to the previous elections was unfortunately not fulfilled."

However, the biggest loser over the year has been the Free Party (Vabaerakond), whose number of members is just over the required 500 to be registered as a party, a situation it has long been in.


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Editor: Katriin Eikin Sein

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