Estonia 200 leader: We're a party of urban dwellers

Estonia 200 leader Kristina Kallas. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Estonia 200, the country's largest non-parliamentary party and, if recent rating polls are anything to go by, more popular than the governmental Isamaa party, is to pick its battlegrounds carefully in the run-up to the October 2021 local elections, party leader Kristina Kallas told ERR. This would mean putting most of its eggs in baskets marked Tallinn and Tartu, along with some of Estonia's other major population centers.

The party, founded in late summer 2018, narrowly missed out on Riigikogu seats at the general election the following March, a loss often blamed on an electoral poster campaign intended to provoke discussion on the matter of social division (between Estonians and ethnic Russian Estonians) but which attracted criticism.

Now, Kallas said, the party will not be running in all electoral districts the October after next, and will primarily focus on the towns. Education will be one of its flagship policy hubs as well, she said.

The party's electoral strategy in its efforts to pick up its first ever representation, albeit at the local level, also comes in response to the nuances of the way provincial politics works in Estonia – often with power blocs of different national or local parties or political groups emerging. Kallas said Estonia 200 had some scope here too.

"In many places, we have now cooperation with various forces. This all still depends on the local context, where it makes sense for all parties, or very many parties, for example, to join a single electoral bloc. There are such cases of this as well, especially in Ida-Viru County, where the power of the Center Party has cast a long shadow in local governments," Kallas told ERR's Aleksander Krjukov.

"[In Ida-Viru County] we have considered different options. So our main focus is still on the cities," she went on.

Kallas also said the party's size meant it could not take on the biggest fishes (Center, Reform, EKRE and to an extent Isamaa and SDE-ed.) at present.

" It is clear that we are not standing in all 79 municipalities. We are not such a big organization, and this is not our ambition. We have never taken on the goal of being a so-called mass party, one which is represented all over Estonia."

Kallas said that this did not mean Estonia 200 would turn its back on rural voters, however. The party has strong support and/or infrastructure on Saaremaa, and in the central Estonian town of Jõgeva, she said. However, it would primarily be focusing on the larger towns.

Tallinn and Tartu major focal points

"Tallinn is definitely one of the priorities. For us, Tallinn and Tartu are obviously key as big cities. Ida-Virumaa is also a priority for us. Saaremaa, too, is an important place for us,and we have our own team there. We have teams placed in several local governments in Harju County. Around Tallinn in Harju County, and in southeast Estonia."

Kallas also noted that issues would also be in focus as well as the logistics of running an electoral campaign.

"It is one thing for the teams, but the other thing is still which discussions Estonia will be having before the next elections. This is where things are forcibly drawn to the values ​​of the constitution," she said.

Referendum on marriage definition in constitution likely the issue of the election

The October 2021 local elections are to be accompanied on a referendum on whether marriage – currently not defined in the constitution – should be enshrined constitutionally and whether that definition should mean one man and one woman.

Kallas also said that it was too early to fully outline how Estonia 200's party lists will pan out, though issues in the capital, such as car ownership and the environment would vie alongside the fact that Tartu's city government has long been dominated by the Reform Party (a party whose voters could comfortably and ideologically make the switch to Estonia 200 – ed.).

Education would be central in Estonia 200's platform, Kallas went on, not least because it is highly locally-governed and with that brings regional variations in quality.

Finally, plugging in regions to decision-making processes more directly – Kallas did not directly use the term direct democracy – is also important for Estonia 200, with plenty of scope for local participation being improved via legal changes.

The other three non-parliamentary parties are the Free Party – which had several seats in the last (XIII) Riigikogu but which now barely has enough members to legally be registered as a political party (500 members is the threshold – ed.), Richness of Life (Elurikkuse erakond) which also places a premium on decentralization and local engagement, and the Estonian Green Party, which has been plagued by financial issues recently.

Richness of Life and Free are mulling a merger – the current leader of the former, Artur Talvik, is in fact a former leader of the latter in any case.

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), now in office with Center and Isamaa, draws much of its support from rural areas and smaller towns, chiefly in the southern half of the country.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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