Võru, Valga and Põlva counties: How many voters will EKRE win from Center?

Front runner candidates in Põlva, Võru and Valga counties constituency, at the March 5, 2023 Riigikogu elections.
Front runner candidates in Põlva, Võru and Valga counties constituency, at the March 5, 2023 Riigikogu elections. Source: ERR

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the most successful party in the Võru, Valga and Põlva counties constituency, one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country, at the last general election in March 2019, is, ERR writes, the favorite for 2023 also.

The constituency also has its own peculiarities in that, being made up of three counties compared with just the one county or city/city district as with most constituencies, the parties have to contend with differences in voter tastes between the three counties.

EKRE's chances are even better now than before, because plenty of disaffected voters who had previously backed the Center Party have now gotten behind EKRE. Added to this is the unpredictability deriving from the fact that both EKRE and Center, as well as the Reform Party, are putting up new front-runner candidates in the constituency.

Historically, the most successful candidates in Võru, Valga and Põlva counties have amassed the bulk of their votes from at least two out of three counties. Looking at previous election results, the pairing seems easiest in Võru and Põlva counties, rather than another combination. Valga County's electorate has meanwhile become more distinctive, making it harder for candidates supported purely in this county to win a seat.

In this constituency as a whole, all the political parties have also been bringing in people from outside (Read: From Tallinn) who are well-known nationally and so can likely win votes in all three counties. 

The Reform Party has especially stood out in its use of this tactic, which in the last two elections led to candidates with a local background finishing only third.This is what "the squirrels" (Reform's nickname, deriving from the party logo – ed.) are doing this time, too.

EKRE already won the best result in this 11th electoral district, which comprises eight Riigikogu seats, in the 2019 elections, at 24.7 percent. 

The Reform Party, however, came just behind on 23.3 percent, and the Center Party just behind that, at 21.3 percent of the vote.

How much will the popularity of the EKRE brand be boost Epler and Frosch?

EKRE's position is even stronger four years later. Or, as one person who knows the local situation on the ground well, says: "EKRE could just put up Mart Helme's table leg or Hele-Moonika Helme's pen, and thousands of votes would still be secured." 

They are not denigrating EKRE in any way by saying this, but by caricaturing things, they are demonstrating how strong the EKRE brand is in southeastern Estonia. This boost in support has come primarily at the expense of the Center Party.

Of the top three candidates running for EKRE in previous elections, only Merry Aart has made the top three this time. She has spoken in the local press, for example, about Rail Baltica, saying she wanted it routed via Tartu and Valga. Aart is in the third position on the list, but the first and second places are new names: Rain Epler and Ants Frosch. Uno Kaskpeit, which was the number one in the previous election and brought the most votes (3,802), has been moved down to ninth position on the list.

How well or badly Epler and Frosch will fare at the Riigikogu elections is also a question for EKRE itself. Epler has the recent experience of the last local elections in Võru city, where he received only 221 votes as the number one candidate for EKRE. Frosch ran in Otepää municipality (also in South Estonia – ed.) but received just 260 votes. Nonetheless, EKRE's popular brand will definitely boost votes of Epler and Frosch beyond this, at the Riigikogu elections next March.

Epler's CV includes working as an advisor to the Minister of Finance (and EKRE leader), Martin Helme, and was also for a brief time Minister of the Environment (during the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition – ed.).

Epler, who is also making waves on social media with his interesting choice of hairstyle, has been a personal friend of Martin Helme, since university days. More recently, he has been actively speaking on energy issues. This means there is a very high probability that we will see him in the XV Riigikogu.

One more interesting fact about Epler is this: In the years 2000-2006, he belonged to Isamaa (in its earlier incarnation – ed.). However, in the local elections in 2017, Epler ran in the Võru municipality, but on the list of EKRE's current, main opponent, the Reform Party, receiving a grand total of ... two votes. That's the result, but it's definitely not enough to get elected. On the plus side (for him – ed.), however, it can be seen that four years later, Epler managed to increase his vote yield at the local level more than a hundredfold.

The Reform Party leans on Kersna, and is bringing in Kross to help

Former Minister of Education Liina Kersna is running in the constituency as Reforn's top candidate. In the last elections, as well as the last-but-one, current Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur was Reform's top candidate in Võru, Valga and Põlva counties, but he is now running for office in Lääne-Viru County, at the other end of the country

The reason for this is not, however, the current dispute over the expansion of the Nursipalu military training area (in Võru County – ed.), because this decision to run him was made earlier (either before Pevkur was made minister or before the Nursipalu decision was made – ed.).

Instead, the Reform Party needed a new leader in Lääne-Viru County, since former prime minister Taavi Rõivas, who ran there last time, has quit politics. It is true that the Reform Party can now breathe a certain sense of relief, nonetheless, because if Pevkur ran in southeastern Estonia, things would likely get quite uncomfortable for the party, as a result of what is happening around Nursipalu.

Liina Kersna won 2,343 votes in 2019. Four years earlier, in 2015, in the same constituency, she was also in the second position on the list, after Pevkur, and got 2,387 votes. As the current number one on the list, the party expects a better vote yield from her than that, and if it wants to replicate Pevkur's previous result, she should get 1,000-1,500 votes more than the last time. 

After resigning from the ministerial post (in summer, following controversy over the procurement of Covid vaccines for schools -ed.), Kersna has been prosecuting a very active campaign locally, which is also reflected in her social media posts. 

However, this has made some competitors turn up their noses and ask how things are going in the current Riigikogu (Kersna returned to parliament as an MP after leaving the ministerial post, as per standard practice – ed.).

Liina Kersna (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Next up after Kersna, MP and former intelligence chief Eerik-Niiles Kross will bring in votes to the Reform Party too. In the last elections, he ran in Ida-Virumaa and got 1,110 votes. The rationale behind ​​bringing Kross to southeastern Estonia having a security expert alongside Kersna, who represents "softer" values. Considering the importance of security issues relating to the war in Ukraine, this choice is also understandable.

As in the previous elections, only one of the local politicians will be in the top three – this time it will be either Andrus Seeme from Põlva County, or Maido Ruusmann from Tõrva. Mait Klaassen, outgoing, long-time rector of the University of Life Sciences, is also a candidate in the ranks of the Reform Party in this constituency.

Center Party puts up Savisaar as top candidate

The lead Center Party candidate in next year's parliamentary elections in March is Erki Savisaar, an MP and former environment minister. He ran in the Tallinn Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita constituency at the last election, and in Mustamäe and Nõmme, also in Tallinn, the time before.

Savisaar has no direct link to the region, but the party hopes that, as a nationally-known name (Savisaar's father, Edgar, is Center Party co-founder, a former prime minister and former Tallinn mayor – ed.), he will manage to pick up votes from all three counties. However, this is more complicated than ever before, because many voters who would previously have supported Center have clearly moved to EKRE.

But what is Savisaar trying to say to South Estonians? The answer lies in this party press release, which states: "Savisaar is of the view that the beautiful natural landscape and large forest massifs in southeastern Estonia should be made use of even better, from the point of view of both tourism and the timber industry."

Erki Savisaar. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Tarmo Tamm and Ester Karuse are also candidates on Center's list. Last time, in 2019, Tamm won 2,824 votes, Karuse, 1,665. Among the new names on the list, former skier Anti Saarepuu is also is a candidate, albeit on a fairly specialized platform (of promising the first ever ski tunnel in Estonia – Otepää, within the constituency's boundaries, is the winter capital of Estonia -ed.).

In the ranks of the Center Party, we no longer see Anneli Ott, who brought them 1,474 votes in the previous elections, nor Heimar Lenk, who brought 1,176 votes. This is actually a big setback for the party and useful for EKRE in particular.

However, one notable absence from Center's list this time is former culture minister Anneli Ott. Ott was touted as having good relations with provincial Estonia, more specifically Võru, when she was made minister in the Center/EKRE/Isamaa administration, though had to step down later over the issue of mask-wearing and other Covid safeguards. Ott won 1,474 votes for Center, while another candidate, Heimar Lenk (1,176 votes in 2019) is also not running this time – both absences are a boon for EKRE and a setback for Center, ERR writes.

Eesti 200 - how much Taro support will come from Valga County

The non-parliamentary Eesti 200 party, looking for its first Riigkogu seats after narrowly missing out in 2019, has not decided its number one candidate yet, but this will most likely be former journalist Igor Taro. He was top candidate for the party in 2019 and bagged a decent 1,007 votes in his first ever elcetion. It could be fairly said that Taro's personal result was better than that of the party (which had only been founded a few months before – ed.) in general.

However, the general support for Eesti 200 ahead of the elections is more than twice as high as the last time out, so we can expect a better result from both Taro and Eesti 200. In other words, the party's brand will complement Taro's personal popularity in the region. Taro has also spoken on security issues relating to the Ukraine war, which differentiates him from the pack further.

Igor Taro. Source: ERR

The problem Eesti 200 does have, however, is that Taro's votes come primarily from Võru and Põlva counties. In order to win a seat for the party, it is critical that Eesti 200 also finds candidates who can also bring in votes from Valga County, too. Kaupo Kutsar, deputy mayor of Valga Municipality (in the border town that gives the county its name – ed.), is one such possibility.

In the same way, another candidate comes from Tõrva Rural Municipality. However, whether they will succeed when they are up against nationally known names in other parties is a question for them.

It is also not beyond the realms of possibility that Eesti 200 sends nationally-known names to the constituency also, but this is not likely.

SDE running Padar for the sixth time

The Social Democrats (SDE) faced a fundamental choice coming into this election campaign: Whether or not to put Ivari Padar, a former MEP, as the number one candidate yet again. Padar has been running in this constituency since 2003, i.e. the last five elections. Padar himself confirmed to ERR Thursday that he is indeed the party's front-runner this time as well, 20 years after his first election in the constituency.

Padar has the advantage that, as a well-known name, he can take votes from all three counties. However, his drawback is the fact that his vote share has been in somewhat of a free-fall in the past two decades. In 2003 and 2007, he received over 5,000 votes. In 2011 and 2015, the number of votes stood at 3,000-4,000. In 2019, Padar's number one vote fell to 1,457 votes.

Ivari Padar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

What would have been an alternative for SDE? The popular mayor of Võru, Anti Allas is one. At the last local elections in October last year, Allas took 1,341 votes in Võru city - almost as many as Padar in the Riigikogu elections, and from all three counties. It is true that Allas' strength and weakness is one and the same, however - is he is a well-known face in, and get his votes primarily from, Võru city and the county of the same name only.

Allas likely wouldn't get as many votes from Põlva County, more so Valga County, compared with Padar. It is not known how interchangeable votes received in local elections are with the Riigikogu elections, certainly in the context of Võru County. In short, it could be said that SDE once again made a conservative choice, when they put up Padar as list-leader.

Padar himself explained that it is the custom of the the party in the Võru, Valga and Põlva counties constituency that candidates from the three counties are consecutively represented in turn on the electoral list, meaning either the main Valga or Põlva candidate will take the second place on the list.

This means that Anti Allas will be punted down to fourth position. This is certainly democratic, but probably not the best choice, considering the overall results from elections of recent years.

As for the Valga County region, school principal Karl Kirt is running, and former mayor of Laheda Sirje Tobreluts is running for SDE from Põlva County.

Isamaa calls in veteran politician Kelam in back-up for Sibul

MP, party secretary general and its Riigikogu chief whip Priit Sibul is running as number one candidate for Isamaa again. Sibul netted 1,406 votes in the same constituency in the previous elections: 1,491 votes in 2015, and 2,385 votes back in 2011. This was so far his most successful year, electorally speaking, even though he was second on the list that time to former University of Tartu rector Jaak Aaviksoo.

Priit Sibul. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Sibul says that veteran politician, former MEP and leading figure in Estonia's drive for independence, Tunne Kelam, will be his running-mate, along with Valga Municipal Elder Monika Rogenbaum.

Kelam, 86, did not run in the Riigikogu elections in 2019. In 2015 he ran in Ida-Viru County, getting 260 votes.

Rogenbaum ran in last autumn's local elections and received a creditable 561 votes.

Estonian Greens and Parempoolsed

Johanna Maria Tõugu, co-chair of the Estonian Greens (Rohelised), told ERR that Kaspar Kurve, a member of the Antsla Rural Municipal council and director of the cultural center in that town is top candidate in the constituency. Environmental activists Kaia Solnik, Roy Strider and Joanna Raudhein are also running.

"Negotiations are ongoing, because the list is to be locked down in January," Tõugu said.

Kaspar Kurve. Autor/allikas: Eestimaa Rohelised

Tõnis Kons, Parempoolsed board member, says the party has not yet confirmed its final electoral lists, meaning it will take some time to publish the front runners in all constituencies. "The final lists will probably be made public in January, just before the official registration of the lists," he said.

The Riigikogu election takes place on March 5, 2023, preceded by several days' advance voting. One change since 2019 has been the lifting of a ban on campaign advertising in the weeks leading up to polling day.


According to Norstat's latest survey, 31 percent of voters in Võru, Valga and Põlva counties constituency picked EKRE, and 28 percent plumped for the Reform Party. The Center Party is just behind, on 21 percent support.

Eesti 200 polled at 8 percent, Isamaa at 6 percent, and SDE 5 percent, just on the threshold needed to win seats, under Estonia's d'Hondt system of PR.

The Greens and Parempoolsed polled below the 5 percent threshold.

These figures, however, mostly reflect the popularity of political parties' brands – specific candidates will affect support numbers also, in both directions.

The d'Hondt system lends itself to parties running flagship candidates, even if they have no connection with a constituency and/or have no intention of taking up a seat if they win one (for instance if they are a sitting MEP, or local government leader, or are likely to be made a minister). Excess votes which these more popular figures win are distributed to those lower down the list, both increasing the number of seats a party wins and giving seats to candidates who would not have won them in their own right.

As noted above, some front-runner candidates are thought to be regionally-specific, others have a national profile which can lead to them being parachuted into a constituency list.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: