Leaders of three political parties, along with other top vote winners are all running in Estonia's largest constituency of Harju and Rapla counties for the 2023 Riigikogu elections.
16 Riigikogu seats will be up for grabs in Harju and Rapla counties district this time around. One additional mandate has been added since 2019 due to demographic changes, which also mean one less set is available in Ida-Viru County.
The electoral district of Harju and Rapla counties is an important one, and is where parties tend to place their most reliable vote winners.
The reason why such strong candidates are usually put forward in this district, is that the large number of votes available provides an opportunity for candidates to not only bolster their individual tallies, but also add significantly to their party's national totals.
This can provide an alternative route into the Riigikogu for fellow party members, who fail to gather enough support by themselves in other districts.
Kallas first for Reform, party still trusts Mihkelson
The Harju and Rapla counties electoral district has been one of the Reform Party's main strongholds for years, with the party and its frontrunners having considerable success in consecutive Riigikogu elections.
In 2015, Taavi Rõivas picked up 15,881 votes, with Reform gaining 35 percent support in the district overall. In 2011, Andrus Ansip won 18,967 votes, while the party finished on 37 percent. There is nothing so far to suggest that voters in the capital's affluent suburbs are likely to make a decisive change in their electoral preferences this time round.
As expected, Reform's frontrunner in Harju and Rapla counties is party leader and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. Kallas won 20,072 votes in the last Riigikogu elections as Reform gathered 38.1 percent of the total votes available in this district.
Marko Mihkelson, who won a district mandate in the 2019 elections with 3,655 votes, is second on Reform's list this time round. Placing Mihkelson in such a high position so soon after the recent scandal involving him, is a significant move, showing that the party leadership still has confidence in him. On the evening of March 5, we will find out whether voters share that confidence.
Reform's Riigikogu whip Mart Võrklaev is up to third place, with Aivar Sõerd, Kristina Šmigun-Vähi, Timo Suslov, and Mario Kadastik also on the party's list in this electoral district.
EKRE sticks with same candidates as 2019
EKRE is the only political party whose frontrunner in Harju and Rapla counties is not also the party chair. Instead, EKRE's list is topped by vice-chair Henn Põlluaas. This is unlikely to be a huge issue for the party in terms of votes however, as four years ago Põlluaas won a personal mandate with 7,390 votes in this district.
The second to fourth numbers on EKRE's list are also unchanged from four years ago: Siim Pohlak, Rene Kokk and Kai Rimmel.
In the last Riigikogu elections, EKRE received 18.3 percent support in this district, which was slightly better than the party's national result of 17.8 percent.
Ratas leads Center, puts faith in Liimets
Four years ago, the Center Party performed worse than expected in Estonia's largest constituency, receiving just 15.1 percent of the vote, well below its overall national result of 23.1 percent.
While party leader Jüri Ratas won a personal mandate with 9,702 votes, his tally was more than doubled by Reform's Kaja Kallas.
It was also notable that none of the 16 candidates behind Ratas on Center's 2019 roster managed to get as many as 1,000 votes.
Ratas will continue as Center's number one this time out, though who will run behind him, is yet to be fully revealed. Among the new names on Center's list, is former Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets.
Liimets came under fire in the last round of local elections, picking up just 120 votes in Tallinn's Kristiine district. However, Ratas believes that there are few in Estonia, who can match Liimets for experience and competence.
The chair of Center's the Harju County chapter, Mayor of Maardu Vladimir Arhipov, is also highly likely to stand. In the 2019 elections, Arhipov was a candidate on Center's list, picking up enough votes (944) to win a seat in the Riigikogu, though later opted to withdraw his candidacy. Kaido Höövelson was then elected to the Riigikogu in his place. However, Höövelson will be Center's frontrunner in Ida-Viru County this time round.
Isamaa puts Reinsalu in top spot
Isamaa has made several changes to its list of candidates for the upcoming elections. Not least due to the fact that Jüri Luik, the party's 2019 frontrunner in Harju and Rapla counties will not stand in 2023.
Luik received 4,806 votes last time, making him Isamaa's top vote winner in Estonia's largest electoral district.
Now, Isamaa's frontrunner is Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu. Four years ago. Reinsalu stood in Tallinn's Mustamäe and Nõmme districts, receiving 2,633 votes.
Among those following Reinsalu on Isamaa's list this time are Raivo Aeg, Lauri Vahtre, Heiki Hepner, Mari-Ann Kelam, Tarmo Kõuts and newcomer Artur Tiganik.
It is also worth noting, that Juhan Parts, who was Isamaa's leader in Harju and Rapla counties in 2015, will not be standing in the forthcoming Riigikogu elections at all. Parts, whose term at the European Court of Auditors (ECA) is about to come to an end, would be able to run, however has decided not to.
Hussar is Eesti 200's frontrunner
Priit Alamäe, Eesti 200's frontrunner in Harju and Rapla counties during the previous Riigikogu elections, will not stand on this occasion. Alamäe, who was a founding member of the party, and received 1,811 votes four years ago, said, that instead of running for office, he is focusing on ways to increase Estonia's GDP and has no additional energy leftover for campaigning.
Eesti 200's frontrunner this time around is recently-elected party chair Lauri Hussar. Four years ago, Hussar stood in Tallinn's Mustamäe and Nõmme districts, collecting 1,300 votes. Hussar also gained 660 votes in last fall's local elections in Viimsi Municipality, after which he became chair of Viimsi Municipal Council.
Who follows Hussar on Eesti 200's list is still to be decided. Security expert Merle Maigre, was originally supposed to be number two on the party's list, however, she had since withdrawn. While Hussar has expressed hope that he would still be able to talk Maigre around, it is considered unlikely that she will change her mind.
More certain to stand as candidates for Eesti 200 are entrepreneur Atso Matsalu, musician Stig Rästa, Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund (EUIF) (Töötukassa) chief Evelin Ausmees and Tallinn Russian Theater actor Nikolai Bentsler.
It is possible that singer and Nordica communications manager Toomas Uibo will stand in Harju and Rapla counties, though other districts are also being considered.
Some members of the Harju County municipal councils are also expected to join Eesti 200's list in this district.
SDE expecting a "yes" from Kaljurand on Friday
SDE secretary general Eduard Odinets told ERR, that the party expects MEP Marina Kaljurand to stand in Harju and Rapla counties.
Kaljurand would then be the party's frontrunner in the district, as she was in 2019, receiving 5,504 votes. However, Kaljurand has not yet made a final decision about whether she will run, and news about her candidacy is expected to be announced this Friday.
If Kaljurand were to opt out, with the SDE tantalizingly close to the electoral threshold, it would be as severe a blow to party as the resignation of Katri Raik in Ida-Viru county.
In all likelihood, entrepreneur and owner of office supplies company "Büroomaailma" Jüri Ross would then step in as party frontrunner. The 69-year-old joined the SDE in March this year.
Other candidates on the SDE's list in Harju and Rapla counties are sociologist and creator of the Nami-Nami food portal Pille Petersoo, chair of the party's Harju County chapter Henri Kaselo, former senior military officer and reserve colonel Aivar Jaeski, head of the Lääne-Harju Cultural Centre and party board member Anneli Pärlin, musician and filmmaker Hardi Volmer, and TV personality Tanel Talve.
Parempoolsed and Estonian Greens
Although Parempoolsed has not announced its list of candidates, the party's leader in Harju and Rapla counties, Lavly Perling, is most likely to be its frontrunner. In the most recent local elections, Perling stood in Saue Municipality on Isamaa's list, receiving 579 votes.
Timur Sagitov, who is a member of the Estonian Greens' leadership group, said that the party is still looking for a suitable frontrunner for Harju and Rapla counties and will extend its search to non-party members.
According to Sagitov, the Greens' most prominent and active members are already running in other constituencies across Estonia.
However, leader of the Greens' Harju and Rapla counties local chapter Remi Olesk, along with businessmen Erkki Markus and Harri Tilk are all standing as candidates in the district.
According to the latest Norstat survey, 40 percent of voters in this district say they will vote for the Reform Party, 21 percent for EKRE, 16 percent for the Center Party and 11 percent for Eesti 200.
Support for Isamaa was at seven percent according to the survey, while the SDE were on five percent. The Estonian Greens and Parempoolsed each have less than one percent support in this district.
However, these results primarily reflect the popularity of the parties' brands. The selection of specific candidates can have an impact on the success of parties in different constituencies, depending on their individual strengths or weaknesses.
More information about the 2023 Riigikogu elections from ERR News' can be found on our dedicated page here.
Editor: Michael Cole