Sunday's local elections were a lackluster affair for nearly all the leaders of Estonia's major political parties, running as 'flagship' vote-attracting candidates but in many cases polling lower than less well-known figures. The one exception was Eesti 200 chief, Kristina Kallas; while Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme was the most-voted-for candidate from his party, his overall vote count was nothing special in the context of the electoral district he ran in.
While Eesti 200 missed out narrowly on Rigiikogu seats in the March 2019 electon, the first election it had contested, its nationwide result of 6 percent of the vote on Sunday would have translated into a few seats, were the polls to the Riigikogu and not the local municipalities.
For Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar, and the party as a whole, the night was not one to remember, and a decision by Saar to run in Tallinn despite not ordinarily residing there seems to have been the wrong choice. The party's overall vote halved on its 2017 local elections level, though it has not ruled out being a coalition partner with Center, but Saar's days as party leader may be numbered.
As for Center, and also the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the personality-driven nature of Estonian elections in general, and local elections in particular, did not help their leaders, Jüri Ratas and Martin Helme, who were both outperformed by less well-known candidates.
Only Reform's Kaja Kallas stayed aloof from the affray; as prime minister, she could not take up a local council seat in any case (though neither could Jüri Ratas as Riigikogu speaker), but would be permitted to run as a "flagship" candidate, in Estonian referred to as a "vote magnet". She did not, however.
Seats have been allocated to successful candidates, though the lengthy process of coalition negotiations is only just getting underway.
The breakdown of party leaders' performances as reported by ERR's online news in Estonian follows.
Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200)
Eesti 200, contesting its first ever local elections, did well in Tallinn and Tartu, and in some other areas, including Viimsi, an affluent suburb just outside Tallinn, where former Postimees editor-in-chief Lauri Hussar picked up the most votes at 660, ahead of Reform Party veteran and municipality mayor Siim Kallas (462).
Party leader Kallas (no relation to Reform leader Kaja Kallas – ed.) ran in Tartu, where she came in second place behind long-term Reform mayor Urmas Klaas.
Kallas picked up over 3,000 votes in Tartu, and went some way to rebutting sceptics who predicted that while Eesti 200's marketing would be strong, it would lack the candidates to match.
Indrek Saar (SDE)
Saar's widely-criticized decision to run in the Tallinn district of Nõmme, despite normally residing near Rakvere, seemed to backfire. While he won a seat, his 588 votes was nothing to shout about, not least when put in the context of the former number one SDE candidate in Nõmme, Rainer Vakra, who polled 3,296 votes in 2017.
Vakra has since left politics and now works in a top management role for a Tallinn district heating firm.
Saar legally changed his address ahead of the election, in order to run, in a move criticized as "election tourism". ERR reports that he may have to step down as SDE leader, with former party leader Jevgeni Ossinvoski, and former health minister Riina Sikkut mentioned as potential successors.
Saar told ERR Monday that the voters of Tallinn have made two things clear: "They want to see a coalition government, but they want to see Mikhail Kõlvart as mayor. And his victory obliges this."
Whether SDE could be Center's coalition partner depends on whether issues important to his party coincided with those of Center, and were practical to implement, he said.
Züleyxa Izmailova (Greens)
A very familiar face both before and during the 2021 election campaign, Izmailova only picked up 563 votes, on the night, in Põhja Tallinn.
Across the capital, the party picked up 4,221, or 2.2 percent of the total – a better performance than its national tally, which stands at 1.1 percent of the vote.
The party picked up two local council seats, in Antsla, Võru County.
Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa)
Another poor performer on the night, with 332 votes in Viljandi, Seeder fended off a leadership challenge in June from former prosecutor general Lavly Perling (who picked up 579 votes in Saue – ed.).
While he managed to improve slightly on his 2017 result (326 votes, also in Viljandi) Seeder was fourth for Isamaa in terms of votes; the party picked up four seats as well, down two from the last election.
Otherwise, nationwide Isamaa remained largely unchanged on 2017, doing best in Rakvere and improving in Tartu (up two seats, to five).
A highly visible anti-corruption "Plats puhtaks" ("clean up the square") campaign headed up by former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, the party's Tallinn mayoral candidate, failed to make waves in the capital, though the party did not fall short of the electoral threshold of 5 percent.
Jüri Ratas (Center) and Martin Helme (EKRE)
The Center and EKRE leaders, formerly coalition partners, April 2019-January this year, as prime minister and finance minster respectively, ran head-to-head in the residential Mustamäe district in Tallinn, picking up similar numbers of votes.
Ratas (3,034 votes) was slightly ahead of Helme (2,957).
At the same time, two other candidates picked up well over twice that number, with Lauri Laats (Center) getting 8,466 – more than Ratas and Helme combined.
Laats was second-most popular candidate nationwide, after Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (27,737 votes).
Ratas was fifth-most voted-for Center candidate nationwide; Helme was in fact the biggest.
Ratas also cannot take up his seat, as he is Riigikogu speaker.
Other SDE leading figures
Riina Sikkut (1,664 votes), Raimond Kaljulaid (1,579 votes), Jevgeni Ossinovski (829 votes) and former foreign minister Sven Mikser (761 votes) all performed better than Indrek Saar in Tallinn, though the party's support nationwide more than halved since 2017, to 29,000 votes and 5 percent of the total – again, if this were a Riigikogu election instead, SDE would only just have scraped a few seats.
At the same time, the party had some bright spots, particularly on Hiiumaa and in Võru city, where it was the largest single party by votes.
Raimond Kaljulaid: The Center Party won in Tallinn
Raimond Kaljulaid noted Monday that his party had ruled out joining up with the other elected parties in order to oust center, echoing a statement Indrek Saar made Sunday night to the same effect – not least because that would entail an implausible coalition agreement with EKRE.
"The Center Party won the local elections in Tallinn," Kaljulaid said in a statement Monday.
"The leader of the Center Party, Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, also received a very strong mandate to continue as mayor," he continued.
Eesti 200 overall
The party, founded in 2018, polled at 35,000 votes (6 percent) nationwide, up from 24,000 in the March 2019 Riigikogu elections – the party's first ever election, where it failed to win any seats, being just under the 5 percent threshold.
In other words, translate Sunday's result into a nationwide election and it would have picked up Riigikogu mandates.
In Pärnu, however, the fourth-largest municipality, the party performed significantly behind its national average, at 3.3 percent.
Editor: Andrew Whyte