Estonian society is not polarized to the extent that only two major political parties would win votes in next spring's Riigikogu elections, political commentator Külli Taro says.
Appearing on ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday, Taro made her remarks in the context of the Reform Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) not only polling more highly, in recent months, than the other political parties, but also in light of their almost diametrically opposed stated world views.
In his address earlier this week which gave the seal to the March 5, 2023 general election going ahead, President Alar Karis, too, warned that the elections could turn out to be a narrow confrontation between these too parties, and also cautioned against being suckered in by high-sounding political promises, from any party's politicians.
Taro told "Esimene stuudio" that no political party should be charged over just trying to get votes for votes' sake, since the purpose of political activity going into an election is in any case to win as many votes as possible, in order to get into office.
She said: "It is wholly understandable that they want to use techniques that are believed to have worked in the past," adding that the stand-off between the two major parties, currently EKRE and Reform, dates back to opposition between the Center Party and the Reform Party, in the era when Center was led by Edgar Savisaar
"The idea is that those who do not back the Reform Party and are looking for an alternative, plays on the fact that, then, the Center Party, and now EKRE, represent a strong alternative, which can resist [Reform]. And that works both ways," Taro said.
Nonetheless, a situation where the Riigikogu becomes a bi-partisan chamber, with only two major parties represented, will not be the case any time soon.
"I don't think our society is so polarized that we would only vote for one of two parties," she went on.
While Reform and EKRE are indeed quite the opposite in terms of worldviews, Taro said, the greater opposition lies more in their very different way of doing things.
"A difference is apparent between what we believe – in terms of ideology - and how we do things. It seems to me that the head of state also indicated that, above all else, insulting one another is not a discussion."
A great advantage of the Estonian political system is that it is not a bi-partisan system, but one with multiple parties, twinned with a system of proportional representation, Taro added.
"The point is is that there are no winners and losers in the elections, while the Riigikogu should reflect Estonian society, proportionally. This should result in us having fewer people who are disillusioned with politics," she said.
Nonetheless, two worrying phenomena have arisen as a result of political culture in Estonia's proportional representation system.
"First, the fact that we have an unwritten political agreement not to interfere in the governance of ministers from other political parties. Perhaps as a result of this, we rather consolidate this problem of 'silo towers', than resolve it."
"Ten years ago, we tried to start a conversation about unified governance and cooperation, and coordination and horizontal governance. However, if the political pact is such that I will not interfere in another minister's sphere of governance - by interference I do not mean vetoing, but essentially just having discussions and opinions - then it will prove very difficult to achieve the unified governance referred to," she went on.
"Another worrisome agreement from my perspective is one which particularly stands out from the current coalition, where it has been decided that the ministerial positions will be distributed equally between the government partners.
"We have a situation where the Reform Party, in the coalition, has over 30 seats in the Riigikogu, but has exactly the same number of ministerial positions as those with 10-12 seats (ie. SDE and Ismaa – ed.). This is out of balance when compared with the representation we have in society, not to mention the electoral result that was actually achieved at the Riigikogu," Taro added.
According to Taro, the main issue in the upcoming election debates is security. "I think that although they say that there is nothing to argue about security, security is the main issue, because when there is a threat to life, nothing else is important. The war in Ukraine has reminded us what is most important," he said.
Editor's note: Since the March 2019 general election, three coalitions have been in office: Center/EKRE/Isamaa (April 2019 to January 2021), Reform/Center (January 2021 to June 2022 – after which the Reform Party was in office alone for over a month) and the current Reform/SDE/Isamaa coalition, which entered office in late July.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael
Source: 'Esimene stuudio', Mirko Ojakivi