While much of the recent media focus has been on the – at present somewhat still-born – presidential elections, mid-October sees the local elections take place, meaning the major and minor political parties in Estonia are starting to gear up for these.
Partly due to the presidential election, partly due to the pandemic, and with other factors such as changes in electoral regulations – a much-panned ban on outdoor electoral advertising has now been lifted – as well as the situation regarding the parties' finances, campaigning is starting a little bit later than in previous local and other elections, though the coalition Reform Party and the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) have had a head-start on the other parties.
While Center has traditionally engaged in door-to-door canvassing, with the pandemic, the party may not do so ahead of October 17, polling day.
Isamaa is likely to avoid in-person campaigning as well, the party's recently re-elected secretary general Priit Sibul says, though his opposite number over at the Reform Party, Erkki Keldo, said that it prefers this method and may stick with it.
Center spokesperson: EKRE's success in recent years partly down to personal touch
EKRE's district coordinator Rudolf Jeeser, meanwhile, said that door-to-door polling was one of the keys to the party's success in recent years.
Jeeser said that: "It is no secret that one of the keys to EKRE's success is a face-to-face meeting. As a result, the plan is to hold as many face-to-face meetings as possible within the rules."
Center's secretary general, Andre Hanimägi, said the bulk of their campaign will run in late September, though the outdoor person-to-person campaigning will start this month.
The Riigikogu is not returning until mid-September, primarily to allow parties to focus more on campaigning, though the presidential elections starting August 30 confound this slightly, as MPs will have to attend extraordinary sessions for this purpose.
Pre-election outdoor advertising ban now lifted
Another change this time around is the lifting of a much-maligned ban on outdoor electoral advertising in the roughly six-week period leading up to an election, which has had the effect of meaning parties are starting their campaigning later, in addition to the presidential election considerations.
EKRE's Henn Põlluaas, who is the party's presidential candidate, has already embarked on a campaigning tour of Estonia, however, which will likely have an effect on the local elections in October too – and indeed may be taking place with that in mind.
This means that EKRE, along with Reform, have taken an early lead in electioneering.
Another consideration is candidate lists, which have not been announced yet. Parties tend to put vote-attracting big names on each list, to take advantage of Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation, a system which allows redistributing excess votes, once a candidate has clinched a seat by meeting the threshold level of votes, to candidates lower on the list who might not otherwise have won a seat.
Candidate lists mostly not announced yet
In and of itself, the Tallinn mayoral candidate is a major figure as well.
Rudolf Jeeser, Center's districts coordinator, says he believes that EKRE will come up with a Tallinn mayoral candidate in mid-August.
On the other hand non-parliamentary party Eesti 200, contesting its third election since its formation in 2018, will only present its candidates to the public in September, the party's campaign manager Marek Reinaas says.
The opposition Social Democratic Party S(DE) says that it will be making some changes, but remained tight-lipped on them. "There will be clear changes in the direction of the campaign when compared with the past," SDE secretary general Rannar Vassiljev said.
The Green Party will also focus on social media, and smaller in-person campaigning, bearing in mind the pandemic, its secretary general, Annika Altmäe, says, adding that the lack of state support the party gets compared with other, larger parties, is a factor.
The party is in fact running only in three municipalities – Tallinn, Tartu and Antsla – Altmäe said, a fact which makes its costs lower than other parties anyway.
Political parties received subsidies in relation to the number of votes received at recent elections, while an additional scheme referred to in the rather ominously-sounding (in English) phraseology of "protection money" or "roof money" (a literal translation of the Estonian Katuseraha) sees funds distributed to parties ahead of the state budget voting period, for use on local infrastructure projects of their choice. Reform declines to take part in the practice, however, dismissing it as a type of corruption.
Most parties' campaigning to cost between half-a-million and a million euros
Eesti 200's municipal elections campaign will cost around half-a-million euros, Marek Reinaas said, a sum less than some of the other parties, he said, with no additional personal contributions expected from candidates.
Erki Keldo said that Reform's campaign may cost around a million euros. The party's finances are in relatively healthy shape in any case, ERR reports.
SDE will spend less than a million, though, Vassiljev said, the party has paid off outstanding debts in the summer, and plans to take out a small loan after the October elections.
Isamaa's campaigning will cost a bit less than a million euros, Priit Sibul said; EKRE remains secretive about its finances, though Rudolf Jeeser said it would be spending more than in the previous municipal elections it has contested since it was formed in 2012 – the elections were in 2013 and 2017 – while Center may spend a but under one million, Andre Hanimägi said.
Center candidates are, ERR reports, expected to contribute from their own pockets more than in some other parties, not least given financial scandals which continue to plague the party, with one recent, prominent example being the case of former education minister Mailis Reps, who was forced to step down late I 2020 over an expenses controversy.
In addition to Reform, Center, Isamaa, EKRE, SDE, Eesti 200 and the Greens, the TULE party, formed by a merger between the old Free Party and the Richness of Life Party, will also be contesting.
Unlike the presidential elections, which are held at the Riigikogu and in the regional electoral colleges if the former prove inconclusive, the local elections comprise the largest franchise of all of Estonia's polls, with all residents of Estonia entitled to vote.
In other words, if you are registered resident in Estonia, you can vote on October 17 or in the six-day advance voting period which predates it.
Editor: Andrew Whyte