The electoral district of Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita, with its 13 mandates, is a mixed constituency, and is also the second largest district by population in the country.
Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita is electoral district 2 (of 12) at the March Riigikogu election.
The Lasnamäe component, which makes up over 55 percent of the total electorate, has long been a Center Party stronghold due to its demographic makeup – the district is predominantly Russian-speaking, one of the traditional bedrock support groups for Center.
On the other hand, voters in Kesklinn (the city center) and Pirita have tended to vote more for the Reform Party.
Looking ahead to the March 5 general election and Russian voters in particular, parties other than Center do not seem to be catering especially to that demographic, in this electoral district at least, going by their electoral lists.
In this case, the question is more one of voter turnout from Russian-speakers.
In the last Riigikogu elections in 2019, Center polled at 37.6 percent in this district, with 26,335 votes – down from 42.7 percent of the vote and 31,706 votes at the 2015 Riigikogu elections.
The cause of this fall could simply be 5,000 fewer people, or thereabouts, voting in this electoral district in 2019 than in 2015. In other words, a fall in voter turnout – a phenomenon also seen at the 2019 elections in Ida-Viru County, most of whose larger towns are majority Russian-speaking.
The relative activity or passivity of the Russian voter can alsp plau an important role here. Polls have revealed that since the outbreak of the latest phase of the war in Ukraine, in late February, a large number of Russian voters have given up expressing any preference.
The Center Party has thus also lost its support in this voter group. At the same time, while some Russian voters have moved into the realm of the "don't knows", others have found a new voting home with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) – a party which was actively courting the Russian vote ahead of the 2021 local election, at which a significantly larger number of Russian-speakers are eligible to vote (all Estonian citizens may vote in local elections; the Riigikogu elections are restricted to citizens only).
According to both Kantar Emor and Norstat, polling firms which survey the Estonian political support landscape, 23 percent of citizens of "other nationalities", meaning primarily Russian-speakers, who have voting rights (see above) prefer EKRE.
Whether those of them who can vote will find a suitable candidate from the ranks of EKRE on election day remains a question that they should answer.
Center Party - how many people will come to Kõlvart's aid this time?
The Center Party has announced, perhaps predictably, that it is running the capital's popular mayor, Mihhail Kõlvart, as its front runner candidate.
At the last Riigikogu elections, Kõlvart picked up 17,150 votes. Four years earlier, he ran in the Haabersti, Põhja-Tallinna and Kristiine electoral district, also in Tallinn and also with some neighborhoods with large numbers of Russian speakers resident, at a time when former mayor and Center co-founder Edgar Savisaar ran in the Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita district.
Savisaar netted 25,057 votes that time, which though it may not have seemed so at the time, was essentially his electoral swansong.
Kõlvart saw his numbers improve, however, at the October 2021 local elections, when he ran in Lasnamäe (electoral districts are different in the local elections, where there are 79 of them in total, than in the Riigikogu elections, with 12 districts – ed.).
Last October, Kõlvart pocketed 27,663 votes in Lasnamäe, with one of his deputy mayors, Vladimir Svet, finishing second with 3,374 votes. At the same time, it was easier for the Center Party to mobilize its voters that time, due to a sense of "us versus everyone else" more prevalent in local elections.
One interesting fact about Kõlvart is that he made his political debut at the local elections back in 1999, when he ran on the Moderates ( Rahvaerakond Mõõdukad, the forerunner to the present-day SDE) list in Lasnamäe, but received just 86 votes. He fared even worse at the 2003 Riigikogu elections, when he picked up 33 votes.
His big breakthrough in politics began only after joining the Center Party, which he did at the end of 2008.
Maria Jufererva-Skuratovski, Vladimir Svet, Lasnamäe district elder Julianna Jurtsenko and others will follow Kõlvart on Center's Riigikogu elections list, and even if they do not win seats in their own right, are likely to due to the electoral system used in Estonia, of which more later.
From the aforementioned, it is worth paying attention to Svet's progress. HE differs from the regular Center Party candidate, by frequently talking about cycle lanes and parks, normally the preserve of the Social Democrats (SDE) and as such providing competition to them (following the October 2021 local elections, SDE entered office in a coalition with Center in Tallinn, whereas the latter had previously ruled in isolation there – ed.).
One big question mark hangs over the candidacy of former party secretary general Mihhail Korb, due to his associations with the Porto Franco real estate corruption allegations, which brought down the Jüri Ratas-led Center/EKRE/Isamaa government, in January 2021.
The Center Party surely needs a strong native speaking Estonian candidate, since last time's number two candidate, Mailis Reps, is not running at all, while the number five candidate from 2019, Erki Savisaar, is running in southeastern Estonia instead. These two combined got nearly 3,000 votes last time.
Of other candidates, former environment minister Tõnis Mölder is most likely to be a candidate in this district also, while Monika Haukanõmm, a district elder from the Kesklinn district, who four years ago ran in position two for SDE, is also applying.
Whether Kaido Saarniit, who became Pirita district elder September 29 and joined the CentreParty in November, will also run, is still undecided.
Reform Party - Purga and Joller must make up for KPR's votes
Although veteran politician Siim Kallas originally planned to leave big league politics and not run in the Riigikogu elections, he will now do so in March after all (candidates are not obliged to take up a seat if they win one; if they do not, it goes to the next person on the ordered list who has not yet won a seat – ed.).
Whether the reason for the change of mind was overcoming health issues, which he stated himself OCT 27, or in actual fact resulted from "KPR" – former finance minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus – joining the European Court of Auditors on January 1, is open to question, ERR reports.
Pentus-Rosimannus was number two candidate for the squirrels – Reform's nickname deriving from the party logo – in 2019, and its top candidate in the same district in 2015, meaning there are missing votes to fill by her absence.
Siim Kallas won a seat in his own right in 2019, with 8,733 votes. Pentus-Rosimannus followed him up with 2,482 votes.
KPR's votes must now be "brought home" by Heidy Purga, who last time ran in Põhja Tallinn. That said, Purga ran successfully in the 2021 local elections in Pirita, where taking 1,030 votes, which was a better result than, for example, the entire Isamaa political party there (910 votes).
Backup is expected in the form of Doctor Karmen Joller, who rose to prominence during the Covid pandemic. Between Purga and Joller lies former IT and foreign trade minister Andres Sutt.
The 15-member list of the Reform Party has only one drawback - there is not a single Russian name.
One potential Achilles heel in the Reform Party's list in this district is this – there is not a single Russian-sounding name there.
Eeva Helme debuts for EKRE, Kunnas is front-runner candidate
EKRE is running MP, reserve army officer and National Defense Committee Deputy Chair Leo Kunnas as its top candidate in Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita.
Kunnas picked up 4,813 votes four years ago - the third best result after Kõlvart and Kallas and translating into a district mandate, as opposed to a personal one.
Kunnas will also face off against Isamaa's Riho Terras (see below), which will provide some competitive frisson. Terras, an MEP, is the former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces.
EKRE's scond candidate is Eeva Helme, wife of the party's chair, Martin.
Helme made a successful debut at the 2021 local elections in Lääneranna municipality, in Pärnu County. She is listed at 15th position in the party's overall list, and said of her candidacy that: "My strongest motivation for the upcoming elections is that EKRE could form up a government, and that Martin becomes the country's prime minister."
Mait Talu, Ivan Makarov, Aat Purje, Harri Kingo are also running for EKRE in this district.
One of the key questions the party faces is to what extent it can translate its apparent growing strength among Russian-speaking voters into specific candidates.
SDE bet on Ossinovski and deputy mayors
Jevgeni Ossinovski, Tallinn City Council chair, former health minister and former SDE chair, will head up the party's list in Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita. He picked up 2,680 votes in the same district in 2019.
SDE will likely run Tallinn deputy mayors Madle Lippu and Kaarel Oja here, and also city councilor, activist and journalist Maris Hellrand.
So far as weak spots on the party's list go, the relative similarity of the currently known candidates may be one.
This could potentially have the effect of the candidates canceling each other out in terms of votes, and leading some voter demographics effectively without a voice.
Isamaa's much needed addition: Terras
Isamaa has lost at least one strong candidate, Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits, who announced some months ago she would be leaving politics.
When she first ran in the local elections, Ladõnskaja-Kubits was heralded as a prime example of integration – a candidate with a Russian-speaking background running for an avowedly patriotic Estonian party – and went on to win 1,259 votes at the 2019 general election in this district, runing in the number two spot.
Former finance minister Sven Sester (1,154 votes last time, in the top spot) has also expressed hesitation over running again.
To plug those gaps, it seems likely that, as noted above, MEP and former defense forces commander Riho Terras will run in the top pplace.
While Terras has never run in the Riigikogu elections before, he netted 21,477 votes in the European Parliamentary elections, in May 2019 (Estonia is treated as one single electoral district at European elections).
He did have to wait a while to claim his seat, however – thanks to Brexit, Estonia gained one more MEP mandate (taking the total to seven) after around a third of the U.K.'s former seats were redistributed across the union.
Terras finished seventh overall in May 2019, and subsequently took up his seat once the redistribution was confirmed.
His result was comparable to that of EKRE's MEP, Jaak Madison (22,819 votes in 2019).
At the October 2021 local elections, Terras polled at 837 in Tallinn Kesklinn, the highest-polling Isamaa candidate.
This makes Terras a potential MP (though he would have to forgo his MEP seat to do so – the next European elections are in 2024), at least on the district mandate route.
Tarmo Kruusimäe (1,811 in the Haabersti, Põhja Tallinn and Kristiine district in 2019), Marko Kaljuveer (a former ERR journalist making his electoral debut) and Pille Lille are also running.
Eesti 200 - Reinaas should recreate Kristina Kallas' strong result
Eesti 200, founded in 2018, narrowly missed out on Riigikogu seats in March 2019, and polled at 5.4 percent of the vote in the Tallinna Kesklinn, Lasnamäe and Pirita district.
Party founder and until recently chair, Kristina Kallas, picked up 2,306 votes, sixth overall in the district.
Kallas is however running in Tartu this time around.
One potential replacement in the number one spot, Kalev Stoicescu, who ran in second place in this constituency, has also moved elsewhere this time - in the Hiiumaa, Lääne County and Saaremaa district, in his case.
While the party has not publicly decided on its new front-runner, it seems likely that advertising entrepreneur Marek Reinaas will get the nod.
While Reinaas got off to a slow-ish start in March 2019, picking up 537 in the Haabersti, North Tallinn and Kristiine district, in October 2021, he picked up a much improved 1,939 votes in the Tallinn Kesklinn local election district.
The party will be looking to pick up its first Riigikogu seats this time. It did win local government seats last October.
The list also has a strong Swedish connection; Joakim Helenius a Finnish-Swede businessman, and lawyer Karolina Ullman, a Swede of Estonian descent, are both running, as they did in the 2021 local elections also.
Estonian Greens and Parempoolsed
The Estonian Greens' co-chair, Johanna Maria Tõugu, has said that the party's vice chair, Timur Sagitov, is its number one candidate for March 2023.
Alongside him, long-term party members Aleksander Laane, Olev-Andres Tinn, Peeter Raielo and deputy leader Piret Räni are also running, as are Küllike Reimaa and Tuula Raidna .
Siim Kiisler, Parempoolsed's vice-chair and a sitting MP (formerly of Isamaa) told ERR that the party still has to publish its finalized lists.
The party's leader, former prosecutor general Lavly Perling, told ERR News last month that this list would likely be finalized in January.
The party is a newcomer, having only been incorporated in October this year.
Why are the front-running candidates so important for parties?
The d'Hondt system of proportional representation used in Estonia 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.
This might be the case, 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.
Once all the votes from an election are calculated they are distributed amongst the party lists in three batches: Personal mandates, district mandates and compensation mandates.
Each district has a set number of each of these; nationally there are 13 personal mandates + 66 district mandates + 22 compensation mandates, making a total of 101 mandates, ie. for the 101 seats at the Riigikogu.
District mandates are settled by dividing the total amount of votes received by the same quota, giving mandates to candidates who did not previously meet the quota. Those who have already clinched a personal mandate are removed from this figure, so if a party gets four district mandates, but has already picked up two personal mandates, it would in fact only get two further district mandates.
The compensation mandates are calculated based on votes received nationally using the d'Hondt method of proportional representation (PR) and go to remaining candidates on party lists who have not already gained a personal or district mandate.
You can read more on how the electoral system in Estonia works here.
Norstat's latest weekly party support survey found that 35 percent of people in the district would vote for Reform, 23 percent for Center and 17 percent for EKRE.
Eesti 200 stood at 10 percent, SDE at 7 percent and Isamaa at 5 percent.
This has to be tempered by the fact that the poll is based more on party brands and policies than specific, individual candidates, who can shift support levels in either direction.
Polling day is March 5, 2023, preceded by several days' advance voting period.
Editor: Andrew Whyte