The ongoing administration reform will reduce the number of elected local council members from 2026 to 1019 by the time of the upcoming elections this year. Politicians of Estonia’s smaller parties fear that for less well-known politicians, it will get harder and harder to reach public office.
Preliminary data of the Ministry of Finance shows that the biggest drop in elected representatives will occur wherever a particularly large number of municipalities is about to merge. The most glaring example is Saaremaa, where the whole island will be merged into a single municipality. There, the number of council members will drop from currently 127 to just 31.
Other examples are Järva, where the number of council members will drop from 68 to 21, and Põlva, where there will be just 23 instead of 63 elected representatives running the area of the new municipality in the future. There are many more.
Opinions diverge whether or not this development is positive. While political scientist Tõnis Saarts of the University of Tallinn thinks that the lower number of locally elected officials is a good thing, as there will now be more competition for a smaller number of seats, the country’s smaller parties and independents fear that the dominance of the large parties, like the Reform and the Center Party, will increase locally as well.
Small parties: Fewer seats mean advantage for large political parties
Chairman of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), Mart Helme, told ETV’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera” newscast on Monday that the new order will doubtlessly give all those politicians an advantage that are known beyond local borders.
Helme also fears that the representation of smaller areas that are now part of much bigger municipalities will continue to suffer.
Andres Ammas of the Free Party said that in his opinion, the key question the local elections this year needed to answer was if there would still be a place for independent lists and smaller parties in Estonian politics in the future, or if the large parties would simply push them out of politics.
The situation of independents was made more difficult by the fact that they mostly had to finance their own campaigns, very different from the large parties who have the support of both their members as well as state funding, and more recently also from several influential businessmen.
Saarts, on the other hand, sees a chance for the independents. The lists that seemed to come together consisted of the local elites, Saarts argued, and stood a good chance to get a good result as well. Political competition would increase, as there were now more candidates per seat.
“The chance that a single party wins the absolute majority on a local council is much smaller, as so far it has been a problem in plenty of Estonia’s smaller municipalities that the same list wins every election,” Saarts commented. With this, no single political force could establish a local monopoly.
Editor: Dario Cavegn