Analysts: Elections to concentrate on security or subsistence

A Riigikogu sitting in progress.
A Riigikogu sitting in progress. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Several political parties unveiled their election platforms and main promises last week that have not gone untouched by the war in Ukraine. "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" asked experts about what are shaping up to be the main topics for the March general elections.

The period of active elections campaigning is upon us, with brochures, pens and election promises waiting to be handed out. The race for the best possible election promise began some time ago, and successfully phrasing the core topic of the elections could provide one with the competitive edge.

"It tends to be the case that the party that manages to define the core conflict or topics of the elections will end up victorious or at least the runner up," said Tõnis Saarts, political scientist at Tallinn University.

"That party will then be one step ahead, with everyone else rushing to catch up," said Annika Arras, executive manager of consultants Miltton.

"Whether we like it or not, security and inflation will by and large be the main topics of the elections," political scientist Martin Mölder said.

The council of the coalition Isamaa party approved the core tenets of its program in April. They included allocating €1 billion for national defense, boosting the number of births, and salaries in education. Isamaa is still to hold its elections runup congress. "Elections and governments come and go, but we only have one Estonia," Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said last year.

The council of the opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE) approved its list of candidates and program in November. "For us, the number one question is how to bring down prices," party leader Martin Helme said.

The Social Democratic Party (SDE) declared last week that Estonia's security depends on everyone's coping. "In a situation where prices have gone up, income must follow," SDE chair Lauri Läänemets offered.

The Center Party sports a similar view. "I am all but convinced that the main topic for the March 5 elections is the coping of people in Estonia, in terms of energy prices and general inflation. The other thing that concerns every one of us – from switching on the radio or pulling up a website in the morning – is our independence, security in the region," Center leader Jüri Ratas said.

The ruling Reform Party prioritizes security matters. "Security and how to make sure Estonia is in safe hands is the main question. The security dimension in national defense – how to make sure Estonia is protected, also in terms of our relationship with the world and Ukraine, the West," Reform board member Kristen Michal said.

Both Saarts and Arras suggested that it is too soon to judge which topic – security or subsistence – will become more important prior to elections and spark a debate.

Parties have few fundamental disagreements when it comes to national security, and it seems this will not be the pointer of balance.

"However, this could change depending on the situation [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will give us immediately before elections. It is there on the backdrop, which we would do well to remember. Unexpected developments could be in store," Arras commented.

She added that people's coping could lead to more serious debate. "Parties clearly sport different approaches here, and it seems the current coalition is vulnerable. Therefore, it makes for an attractive hill to storm for the opposition," Arras suggested.

Saarts associates security with the Reform Party and subsistence with EKRE.

"Which topic – security or socioeconomic coping – comes out on top will prove decisive in terms of whether the elections will go to Reform or EKRE. I believe the latter are in with a shot if most voters prioritize the socioeconomic situation. But if many look at the security situation and align their decision accordingly, I believe the Reform Party has the best shot at winning the elections," Saarts explained.

Martin Mölder suggested that should security and coping fail to spark a debate, smaller topics proposed by parties might take their place.

"We will see the campaign narrative continue to take shape over the coming days and weeks. Isamaa unveiled its positions last spring. Their three core items that they want the elections to revolve around – population and family, education, and security. The things EKRE have said fall more or less into the same category," Mölder said.

"When it comes to Center and SDE, I believe both will rather concentrate on in-house survival these elections. Both feel that they stand to lose this time around," he added.

Annika Arras remarked that the fact that the opposition will find it difficult to criticize everything the coalition is doing as all parliament parties have been part of coalitions in the last four years might also have an effect on the 2023 elections. Only non-parliamentary Greens, Parempoolsed and Eesti 200, that unveiled its program on Sunday, can afford to be critical of everything.

"The main topic of these elections is how to overcome stagnation in Estonian politics, make necessary decisions in security, education, public administration and finance. Those are the core issues, alongside whether we have a plan for taking Estonia into the future," Lauri Hussar, chairman of Eesti 200, said.

Arras suggested that it is difficult to say how successful newcomers will be in getting their messages across. "People who lose their job or can no longer afford to buy as much cheese aren't really interest in the long plan (Eesti 200 campaign slogan – ed.). They want to know how to improve their lives tomorrow. Therefore, I believe that the newcomers will find it a tough crowd," Arras reasoned.

The elections campaign is gearing up, now that parties have unveiled their platforms, and is set to reach its zenith in February.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski

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