Makeup of next Estonian coalition government may turn on just a few seats

The Riigikogu and Pikk Hermann at Toompea Castle.
The Riigikogu and Pikk Hermann at Toompea Castle. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

With a little over a week to go until advance voting starts for the 2023 Riigikogu elections, political parties are gearing up for the final stretch of their campaigning. The latest polls show, however, that the formation of a new coalition could turn on just a few seats, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reports.

The days immediately leading up to the election can also be crucial in that, as demonstrated by the Reform party before the 2019 and 2015 elections, support can get an extra boost right at the last. This can also work in the opposite direction, AK reported, even for Reform.

According to research expert Aivar Voog, of pollsters Kantar Emor, the prime minister's party has seen this effect "From 2011; whereas the Reform Party's rating the preceding year, in 2010, had been significantly higher than it found at the actual 2011 Riigikogu elections."

Reform won 33 seats in 2011.

Both Kantar Emor and fellow market research company Norstat currently forecast success for Reform, with Norstat putting the party on a projected 33 seats (a fall of one on the current tally), while Kantar Emor put Reform's haul as high as a projected 39 seats, an unprecedented total in post-restoration of independence Estonia.

Political scientist Erik Moora meanwhile ruled out a return to the Reform/Center coalition, as was in office January 2021 to June 2022, based on that experience.

"[Center leader] Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas both have an experience from the recent past of a particularly dysfunctional type of cooperation, where Ratas, sitting in the Riigikogu himself (as speaker-ed.) was as much as anything an internal opposition within that coalition," Moora said.

Another viable alignment would see Reform enter office with Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats (SDE).

This would require Eesti 200 to win its first ever Riigikogu seats on March 5, however, and would also be an all-liberal alliance which might be subject to attack along those lines, from the get go.

Kantar Emor puts that theoretical lineup as on 56 seats, post-election, which is a healthy majority at the 101-seat Riigikogu. However, Norstat puts the majority at 51, ie. as small as it could be to have a reasonable chance of getting legislation passed.

Moora said: "In terms of election results, as to which coalition is viable, after polling day, and which not, nothing is certain. Right now, things are somewhat on a knife edge."

While Reform won, in the sense of getting the largest number of seats, the March 2019 election, this was not enough to enter office right away, as Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, went off into negotiations which culminated in that coalition entering office at the end of April that year.

The Reform Party won the previous Riigikogu elections, but the government was formed by the Center Party, EKRE and Isamaa. According to polls, such an alliance could have 45 to 50 seats in the Riigikogu, i.e. too few to form a coalition.

The current opinion polls do not put a return of that alignment as likely, at least in terms of getting a majority – as the parties are projected to get 45-50 seats between them.

As to Center and EKRE entering office with each other in any lineup, Voog said that much hinges on how Center might recoup former support levels, most importantly in Ida-Viru County, a former Center heartland.

"If they can do that, then a situation would arise where the two possible coalitions will have more or less the same number of mandates," Voog said, referring to Center/EKRE/Isama versus Reform/Eesti 200/SDE.

Ultimately, Isamaa would again play the role of kingmaker, at least in a coalition with Center and EKRE, even as it is highly likely to be the smallest of the three in terms of seats.

"Perhaps the personhood of the [potential] prime minister plays a role there," Moora added, implying the quid pro quo would be an Isamaa premier.

While tripartite coalitions have been the norm in the past two decades in Estonia – the bipartite Reform/Center government being the exception that proved the rule – Moora said even a four-party alliance could emerge after the elections. This would, unusually, make the coalition in Estonia contain more parties than the current (tripartite) one in neighboring Latvia.

Polling day is March 5, preceded by an advance voting period starting February 27.

The current Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition, the Reform/Center coalition and the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition had around 56 seats for most of their lifespans.

If Eesti 200 win seats on March 5, the Riigikogu would likely return to six parties as the XIII Riigikogu had been. The current, XIV Riigikogu has five parties.

Two other parties, Parempoolsed and the Estonian Greens, currently poll too low to win seats, assuming the ratings translated into votes.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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