Anticipated to top their respective parties' Tartu candidate lists in the Riigikogu elections next March are Kristina Kallas, Krista Aru, Jaan Toots, Jaak Valge, Urmas Klaas and Tõnis Lukas.
Up for grabs in Estonia's second largest city will be 8 mandates, or seats, in the 101-seat Riigikogu.
Reform Party pinning hopes to current mayor
The coalition Reform Party has for years won election after election in Tartu, both in Riigikogu and local government races, including earning at least a third of all votes cast in the city in each of the past three Riigikogu elections. The party will once again be sticking with its previously successful top pick — incumbent mayor Urmas Klaas. With 6,119 votes, Klaas was the only candidate in Tartu to earn a personal mandate in the 2019 elections.
"I'll be running in the Riigikogu elections in Tartu, and I expect the mayor will be the top candidate as on prior occasions," Klaas told ERR. "The list of Riigikogu candidates will be drawn up in the Reform Party's internal elections; electoral district lists will be prepared by a list committee and approved by the board of the Reform Party."
Philosophy professor Margit Sutrop, who had been the party's number two candidate in the previous elections as well, will likewise be running for election again in Tartu.
Retired Gen. Ants Laaneots, who had been further down Reform's candidate list in the previous elections than Sutrop but earned more than three times as many votes — 3,053 — is likewise running for election again, despite prior speculation that he may not.
Eesti 200 going with new top pick
The nonparliamentary Eesti 200 will be positioning party deputy chair Kristina Kallas at the top of its list in Tartu next March.
In the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019, Kallas, then chair of the nascent party, ran for election in Tallinn's City Center-Lasnamäe-Pirita electoral district (District 2). Margus Tsahkna, who topped the party's previous list in Tartu but earned just 600 votes — fewer than even party mate Kristiina Tõnnisson's 761 — will not be running for election in Tartu this time.
Tsahkna said that as he'd done so well in Tallinn's Nõmme District in the latest local government elections in 2021 (earning 1,515 votes), it wouldn't be sensible to run for election in Tartu anymore. He himself said, however, that he hasn't yet decided if and where he may run next March.
The fact that Kristina Kallas earned 3,000 votes in Tartu in the most recent local elections in 2021, coming in second only to incumbent Reform mayor Urmas Klaas, suggests that Eesti 200 may have a more successful run in the 2023 Riigikogu elections than they did in 2019.
Social Democrats to back compromise candidate
Considering the university town's background, one would expect the coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE) to have broad support in Tartu in particular, but looking at their results over the past three Riigikogu elections, support for SDE has weakened each time. The party earned a combined 18.7 percent of votes in 2011, 16.8 percent of votes in 2015 and 11.3 percent in 2019.
Internal tensions that have attracted media attention have further amplified uncertainty surrounding the party. It's difficult to say whether journalism researcher Krista Aru, a compromise candidate brought in by rival camps and who previously worked in the Free Party's parliamentary group in the Riigikogu, will save the day. With her strong academic background, however, Aru is certainly a good fit for the Social Democrats' profile.
According to Kadri Leetmaa, chair of the SDE's Tartu branch, Aru has already received a proposal to run as the party's top candidate in town, which must now also be approved by the regional branch council. Heljo Pikhof and Gea Kangilaski will most likely follow Aru on the Social Democrats' list.
Current MP to top EKRE's list
The opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) already came in second in Tartu in the previous Riigikogu elections with 17.1 percent of the vote, and anything less next March would be a letdown.
EKRE will be fielding current MP and historian Jaak Valge as its top candidate in District 10, who earned the spot in an internal vote by the party's Tartu branch. Valge will be followed on the list, which has already been approved by EKRE's board, by Loone Ots and Silver Kuusik.
Fellow current MP Ruuben Kaalep, who ran for election as EKRE's number two candidate in Tartu in 2019, will not be running again next March. Contacted by ERR, Kaalep declined to elaborate on his reasons for not running again, only saying that he had never promised to remain in the Riigikogu forever. He added that of course this doesn't mean that he's quitting the party.
With 2,740 votes, Valge earned an electoral district mandate in the previous Riigikogu elections. Kaalep, meanwhile, had earned just 566 votes, however, ranking fourth among EKRE candidates; he was bested by Indrek Särg (2,223 votes), who has since left the party, as well sa Indrek Kala (689 votes).
Isamaa minister to entice Tartu votes
It is highly likely that Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas will top Isamaa's candidate list in Estonia's second city. Lukas told ERR that if he should be entrusted with such an opportunity, he is willing to lead Isamaa to the polls in Tartu. This is a safe bet for the party, as Lukas will be sure to bring "his votes" to Isamaa.
"There's been talk of that," he acknowledged; with 2,506 votes, Lukas earned an electoral district mandate in 2019. The official decision hasn't yet been made, however, he added.
According to Isamaa secretary general Priit Sibul, Mihhail Lotman and Tartu Deputy Mayor Priit Humal may also top the party's candidate list in Tartu. Lauri Vahtre, who ran for election as the party's number two candidate in Tartu in 2019, will be running elsewhere in the upcoming elections.
Center's moment of truth
Tensions have been present within the opposition Center Party's Tartu branch for years, topped by the standoff between former longtime regional leader Aadu Must and his successor and current branch chair Jaan Toots, the latter of which has also left a mark on the party's election results.
Toots will in all likelihood be named Center's top candidate in Tartu, as Must may end up dropping out of the race altogether due to health-related issues.
The big question is whether Toots will make it. In the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019, Must earned 2,370 votes and an electoral district mandate; Toots trailed with just 871 votes. Merely being named the party's top pick in Tartu will certainly increase the number of votes Toots will receive.
Nonetheless, the results of the latest local government elections in 2021 don't exactly bode well, as Toots earned just 466 votes as the party's top pick in Tartu, and Center only managed to earn just four seats on Tartu City Council.
Tõnis Kons, a board member of the newcomer Parempoolsed, told ERR that the party hasn't yet made any decisions regarding its Tartu candidate list. "We'll start discussing candidate names by electoral district in December, and establish the order of the lists at the beginning of January," he said.
Marko Kaasik, co-chair of the nonparliamentary Estonian Greens, said that their party has not yet made a decision regarding its top candidate for Estonia's second-biggest city, but acknowledged that fellow party co-chair Johanna Maria Tõugu, who has already consented, is being considered for the spot.
In the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019, the Greens earned 939 votes in Tartu, representing 2.1 percent of the city's vote.
The 2023 Riigikogu elections, in which all of the Estonian parliament's 101 seats are up for election, will be held on Sunday, March 5.
MPs are elected to the Riigikogu for a five-year term.
Editor: Aili Vahtla