Anticipated or confirmed to top their respective parties' candidate lists in Järva and Viljandi counties in the 2023 Riigikogu elections next March are Jürgen Ligi, Helmen Kütt, Jaak Madison, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Jaak Aab and Kaspar Taimsoo.
Up for grabs in Järva and Viljandi counties (Electoral District 8) will be seven mandates, or seats, in the 101-seat Riigikogu.
In the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019, the Reform Party earned 26.1 percent of the vote, followed closely by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) with 22.4 percent. The Center Party and Isamaa earned a nearly even 16.7 and 16.5 percent of votes, respectively, while the Social Democratic Party (SDE) trailed with 12.5 percent.
Reform fielding longtime veteran, crossover newcomer
The coalition Reform Party will once again be topping its candidate list in District 8 with veteran politician Jürgen Ligi. With 6,069, the party's deputy chair earned a personal mandate in Järva and Viljandi counties.
A new player for Reform, meanwhile, is the party's number two pick for the district — former Türi municipal mayor and ex-Isamaa member Pipi-Liis Siemann. Siemann quit Isamaa on New Year's Eve last year, and joined the Reform Party this May, citing a more liberal worldview than that of Isamaa under current party chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Viljandi Mayor Madis Timpson will run as Reform's third candidate in the district.
Yoko Alender, who earned 997 votes as the party's second candidate in District 8 in 2019, will not be running for election again in Vilja- and Järva counties. Alender is expected to run as Reform's number two candidate in Tartu (District 10).
Social Democrats: party chair or previous top candidate?
As of publishing of the original, Estonian-language version of this article on Wednesday, the coalition Social Democratic Party (SDE) was still in the process of choosing who will top their candidate list in Järva and Viljandi counties next March. In the previous elections in 2019, Helmen Kütt topped their list as well as earned the most votes in the district with 2,194. Current party chair Lauri Läänemets, on the other hand, earned just 994 votes at number two.
The question now is who to designate their top pick. In light of the hierarchy within the party, it would be Läänemets. Considering the fact that Kütt earned more than twice as many votes as him in the previous Riigikogu elections, however, and that she earned more votes than any other individual in the most recent local government elections in Viljandi (875 votes) in 2021, it might better benefit the Social Democrats to run Kütt as their top pick in the district.
Kütt confirmed to ERR that she will be running for election in Järva and Viljandi counties, but declined to say whether she would be designated the party's top candidate in the district.
SDE chair Lauri Läänemets said that he will be discussing the matter with a meeting of the board of the party's Järva County chapter on Wednesday night. For now, it could be either.
EKRE hoping for personal mandate for current MEP
The opposition EKRE will be topping its candidate list for District 8 with current MEP Jaak Madison, who with 5,612 votes earned a personal mandate in the district in 2019. The party earned a total of 8,389 votes in Järva and Viljandi counties in the previous elections, meaning that its success was predicated largely on support for Madison.
Madison and Reform's Ligi will once again be competing in March to see who will earn the most votes in Järva and Viljandi counties. It's also very likely that both of them will once again earn a personal mandate as well.
Current MP Kalle Grünthal will be running second to Madison, who from the same position earned 740 votes in the previous Riigikogu elections.
Third on EKRE's list in the district will be Türi deputy municipal mayor Elar Niglas, chair of EKRE's Järva and Viljandi counties chapter.
Isamaa relying on party chair, down previous candidates
Topping the candidate list of the coalition Isamaa in Järva and Viljandi counties next March will be party chair Helir-Valdor Seeder, who with 3,138 votes earned a district mandate in 2019.
Isamaa secretary general Priit Sibul said that Seeder will be joined by Viljandi municipal mayor Alar Karu, Järva County chapter board chair Ründo Mülts and surgeon and Paide City Council member Mihhail Feštšin.
Absent from the party's 2023 candidate list is previous number two pick Kaia Iva, who earned 1,526 votes in the 2019 elections before resigning from the party that New Year's Eve. Iva had justified her decision with her opposition to making Estonia's second pension pillar voluntary, a change championed by Isamaa and by Seeder in particular. At least some of Iva's votes, cast by supporters of the party, can be expected to carry over to Seeder.
Likewise not on Isamaa's candidate list anymore is Paide ex-mayor Priit Värk, who was kicked out of the party for running in the latest local government elections in 2021 not on Isamaa's candidate list but on that of a local electoral alliance. Värk had previously earned Isamaa 341 votes.
Center betting on previous elections' vote magnets
The opposition Center Party's candidate list in Järva and Viljandi counties will once again be Jaak Aab, who four years ago earned a district mandate with 2,227 votes. In the most recent local government elections in Viljandi, however, Aab earned just 158 votes.
Worth bearing in mind, however, is the fact that voter behavior differs between Riigikogu and government elections, and that local politics are more highly favored for election to local government councils.
Center Party secretary general Andre Hanimägi said that following Aab on their list in the electoral district will be Kersti Sarapuu. In the previous elections, Sarapuu earned a compensation mandate with 1,394 votes.
Also likely running for election in District 8 will be Peeter Rahnel. In 2019, Rahnel, who has connections to Abja, earned 1,019 votes, the majority of which came from voters in Viljandi County.
Eesti 200 hasn't yet confirmed top pick
The nonparliamentary Eesti 200 did not fare well in District 8 in the previous Riigikogu elections — the party's first. While the then-newcomer party earned 4.4 percent of the overall vote in the 2019 elections, falling just short of the Riigikogu's 5-percent election threshold, in Järva and Viljandi counties it earned just 2.8 percent support.
This time, the party hopes to improve that result.
Eesti 200 chair Lauri Hussar told ERR that the party has not yet confirmed its district candidate list for Järva and Viljandi counties, however traditional musician Ando Kiviberg, champion rower Kaspar Taimsoo, journalist and Türi Municipal Council member Kadri Paas, Põhja-Sakala Municipal Council member Aivar Paas and former Viljandi Culture Academy rector and Viljandi Municipal Council member Anzori Barkalaja have all already agreed to run for election on the party's list.
Kiviberg told ERR that it hasn't yet been decided which electoral district he would be running in. It's possible that he may end up running for election in another electoral district, in which case Taimsoo is most likely to top the party's list in District 8.
Both Kiviberg and Taimsoo ran for election to Viljandi Municipal Council last fall as well, earning 270 and 130 votes, respectively. Both ended up elected, but their results were nonetheless disappointing, as the SDE, EKRE and Reform's top candidates, meanwhile, had earned more than 500 votes each.
Hussar was unable to comment on the plans of the party's previous district top pick musician Ruslan Trochynskyi, including whether he would even be running for election next spring. It's highly likely he won't, as he quit the party altogether in November 2020.
In the previous Riigikogu elections in 2019, Trochynskyi earned just 384 votes.
Tõnis Kons, a board member of the newcomer Parempoolsed, said that the party hasn't yet confirmed their final candidate lists, which is why it will still be a little while before they announce their top picks by electoral district.
"Our final lists will likely be published in January, right before the lists are officially registered," Kons specified.
Johanna Maria Tõugu, co-chair of the nonparliamentary Estonian Greens, said that its top candidates for this electoral district will be determined by January.
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 four-year term.
Editor: Aili Vahtla