Candidates who can get ahead in Saaremaa or put in a strong showing in all three regions tend to make it in the westernmost electoral district of Hiiu, Lääne and Saare counties.
Candidates who find success only in Lääne or Hiiu counties find it harder to get elected as both are sparsely populated. This effect was further amplified when Lihula and Hanila municipalities became parts of Pärnu County following the administrative territorial reform. The western Estonian island of Saaremaa has a population of 33,613, while Hiiumaa and Lääne County have 9,557 and 20,441 people respectively according to the 2022 census. A total of six mandates are up for grabs in electoral district number 5.
Reform makes no changes to top three
The ruling Reform Party has traditionally been the most successful party in the region. This success is owed to popular Saaremaa candidates, with Reform taking 28.6 percent of the vote on Estonia's largest island last elections.
Even though no one managed a personal mandate from Saaremaa in 2019, [former Defense Minister] Kalle Laanet won with 3,344 votes. Laanet tops Reform's list of candidates also in 2023.
Running alongside him are Urve Tiidus (2,617 votes last elections) and Aivar Viidik (893 votes). In other words, Reform is betting on candidates that brought it home four years ago.
Center Party – Karilaid in place of Eesmaa
Enn Eesmaa who took 1,805 votes for Center in 2019 has surrendered the position of frontrunner to Center whip and Haapsalu City Council chair Jaanus Karilaid. He took 1,661 votes in 2019.
Karilaid is strong in Lääne County (its residents cast 800 traditional votes for Karilaid in 2019) where he has turned restoring the Haapsalu railroad link into a matter of the heart. As Center's frontrunner, he is expected to take more votes also from Hiiu and Saare counties this time.
Center's list also includes businessman Mihkel Undrest (1,024 votes last time), principal Antti Leigri, retired Lt. Col. Neeme Väli, care home director Ene Vahter, writer and journalist Katrin Pauts, businessman Ebekai Härm and former Public Administration Minister Janek Mäggi.
Local elections dark horse featured on EKRE list
The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) put in the second strongest showing in electoral district no. 5 in 2019, taking 21.5 percent of the vote. Its nationwide election result came to 17.8 percent.
EKRE's list is topped by MP Helle-Moonika Helme who took a district mandate with 3,202 votes four years ago. Helme was successful in all three counties that make up the district.
Number two on the list is EKRE's Saaremaa regional chair Daniel Mereäär, followed by Kristjan Moora and EKRE Lääne County head Hardi Rehkalt.
Kristjan Moora, former commander of the Defense League in Saaremaa, only took 17 votes at the 2017 local elections when representing the Saarlased election coalition, while his vote yield jumped to 716 when he topped EKRE's list at the 2021 locals. This was bested only by [now Environment Minister] Madis Kallas who took 1,040 votes.
Isamaa frontrunner not clear yet
Member of the board of the Saaremaa branch of Isamaa, 2019 frontrunner Raivo Aeg said that he does not yet know where he will be running in 2021. He took 1,451 votes in the 2019 elections.
Aeg suggested that Isamaa could go with Mart Maastik this time instead.
Maastik told ERR that Isamaa have not settled on a frontrunner yet. He added that he will be number two on the list for sure but is also willing to top it should that be the party's decision.
Isamaa's other candidates in the electoral district of Hiiu, Lääne and Saare counties are pastor Anti Toplaan, former Saare County Elder Kadi Kaasik, Hiiumaa businessman Andrus Ilumets and former Lääne-Nigula Municipality Mayor Mikk Lõhmus.
Social Democrats betting on Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas
The list of the Social Democrat Party (SDE) is topped by Minister of the Environment Madis Kallas who held the same position last time. He took 812 votes and narrowly lost out to fellow SDE candidate Reili Rand (918 votes) in 2019.
Kallas took 1,040 votes in Saaremaa Municipality at the 2021 local elections, or more than he got from all three counties in 2019.
While Kallas was among the least visible ministers in Kaja Kallas' second government at first, his goal to dial back logging in Estonian forests has earned him quite a bit of attention since.
Other prominent SDE candidates include MP Neeme Suur and possibly Heiki Hanso. Electoral district no. 5 should yield a mandate for SDE.
Eesti 200 hopes resting on security expert Stoicescu
The non-parliamentary Eesti 200 have set up Kalev Stoicescu as the first name on their list in the district. Whether this will prove successful depends on the extent to which local people consider security topics important as Stoicescu has no connection to the region, even though he regularly writes opinion pieces for county papers.
Stoicescu ran for Eesti 200 also in the 2019 Riigikogu elections and took 395 votes. He ran in the electoral district made up Tallinn's Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita city districts back then.
Also running for Eesti 200 is Saaremaa businessman Koit Kelder who was the party's top vote magnet four years ago, taking 903 votes. Kelder was a member of the Reform Party 2011-2016 which it brought 529 votes at the 2015 elections.
Number three on the Eesti 200 list is Keith Siilats.
Greens and Parempoolsed
Co-chair of the Estonian Greens Johanna Maria Tõugu said that the party has not settled on a frontrunner in the region yet. "But former Greens MP Aleksei Lotman is running," she said.
Lotman took 320 votes for the Greens in the district in 2019, while this was some way off his 2011 result of 1,490 votes.
Parempoolsed board member Tõnis Kons said that the party has not approved its candidate lists yet, which is why it will take a little longer before regional frontrunners will be revealed. "The lists will probably be finalized in January, immediately before the official registration deadline," Kons said.
Recent Norstat polls suggest that 32 percent of Saare, Hiiu and Lääne county voters would vote for the Reform Party, 21 percent for EKRE and 19 percent for Center.
SDE have the support of 10 percent of people in electoral district no. 5, Isamaa 8 percent and Eesti 200 6 percent. Greens have 2 percent of the potential vote and Parempoolsed 1 percent.
However, these results reflect the popularity of party brands and do not consider the individual strengths and weaknesses of candidates.
More news and information about the 2023 elections can be found at the Riigikogu elections page of ERR News.
Editor: Marcus Turovski