Election results caused surprises in allocation of seats in eastern Estonia

Vote count beginning in Rakvere sports hall, Sunday, March 5, 2023.
Vote count beginning in Rakvere sports hall, Sunday, March 5, 2023. Source: Dmitri Fedotkin /ERR

While Sunday was polling day in Estonia, the allocation of seats across Estonia's 12 electoral districts has taken some time to crystallize, and has also thrown up some surprises.

For instance, while the two northeastern-most districts returned fewer MPs than they were eligible to, the southeastern-most district returned more than the number of district mandates assigned to them.

The latter is particularly surprising since the biggest winner here was Reform; the party was expected to be harmed by the planned expansion of a military training area in the region, but doesn't seem to have been, and in fact several MPs, from more than one party, have national security backgrounds.

Lääne-Viru County, electoral district no. 6

One mandate was "lost" in Lääne-Viru County, electoral district no. 6, and the least populous of the 12 districts nationwide.

That this can happen at all relates mainly to voter turnout and the number of district mandates allocated to a district. While Lääne-Viru County had five mandates set aside, which would equate to five Riigikogu seats, but an insufficient number of votes were cast to meet the quota (see here for more information on how the electoral system in Estonia works).

While lower voter turnout will lead to a fall in representation of that district – in the case of neighboring Ida-Viru County, only three such seats were taken, from a possible six – in the case of Lääne-Viru County, a strong showing for Reform also had an influence.

Mihkel Juhkami (Isamaa), City council chair in the county's largest town, Rakvere, and a veteran of six election campaigns (though not this year's Riigikogu election) told ETV Monday evening that: "Whereas usually the votes in Lääne-Viru County are divided equally between the political parties, this time around the Reform Party's haul is larger."

In fact, actual turnout was no different, as provisionally reported for the district – at 60.8 percent – than at the last Riigikgou elections in 2019.

In 2019, all Riigikogu parties were represented in Lääne-Viru County. This time, only three are.

In 2019, all five parties represented at the XIV Riigikogu got a seat: Reform (Taavi Rõivas initially), Anti Poolamets (EKRE), Ullar Saaremäe (Isamaa), Siret Kotka-Repinski (Center) and Indrek Saar (SDE).

Electoral districts with the number of seats allocated to them for the March 5, 2023 Riigikogu election. Source: VVK

By comparison, this time, only three parties (of six returned to the Riigikogu) are represented, as noted, across four seats.

These are: Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform, was one of nine high-performing candidates, who won a seat in their own right, known as a personal mandate) with 6,567 voted; Anti Poolamets was returned, and was the only candidate to win a district mandate (2,831 votes); Evelin Poolamets (EKRE, 968 votes) and Tarmo Tamm,(Eesti 200, 876 votes) won the other two seats, both as compensation mandates.

Overall, Reform's vote of 8,784 in Lääne-Viru County represented a rise of 2,388 on 2019, compared with Isamaa's 3,881 (down 1,580 posted in 2019) and Center's 3,788 (down 1,583 on 2019).

The Social Democrats, who had seen former culture minister Indrek Saar returned in 2019 as noted, polled at 2,110, a fall of 318, and this time failed to send an MP to the Rigiikogu via any means, personal, district or compensation mandate.

In Ida-Viru County, three candidates were returned when six could have been, in part due to a strong showing from former Center MP and now independent Mihhail Stalnuhhin, and United Left Party candidate Aivo Peterson. Both men could be fairly described as pro-Kremlin, though in the event, neither won a seat.

Center's sole MP returned in a district once its bedrock was Yana Toom. Since she is a sitting MEP, she will likely be replaced by an alternate member at the Riigikogu, probably former Narva mayor Aleksei Jevgrafov.

Võru, Valga and Põlva counties, electoral district no. 11

One of the most interesting results of the Riigikogu elections came from southeastern Estonia, covered by electoral district no. 11 (Võru, Valga and Põlva counties), where 12 MPs have been returned, despite the region being one of the most sparsely-populated in the country, and the district itself having eight allocated district mandates (seven of which were filled).

The biggest change came in the town of Võru, where both the mayor and the council chair won seats at the Riigikogu, which they intend to take up.

Also significant was the number of Reform Party MPs returned, despite the party being closely identified with the hottest topic affecting the area at present, the planned expansion of the Nursipalu military training ground.

Location of Estonia's 12 electoral districts (this article addresses districts 6 and 11). Source: Ljubinka/Wikimedia Commons

Hanno Pevkur, defense minister, is from the Reform Party, while the prime minister, Kaja Kallas, at a town hall meeting in Võru last month faced a crowd which Postimees reported as being hostile, though Kallas herself denied this was the case, in an interview given to ERR News.

Neither Pevkur nor Kallas ran in this district.

In any case, the nuances of the electoral system were a factor in Reform sending more MPs to the Rigiikogu than EKRE, despite the latter polling a little over 1,000 votes more.

Unlike in, say, the U.K., where MPs represent a specific constituency and are expected to reside there at least part of the time, hold surgeries for local residents etc., in Estonia, while MPs are elected by regional district, no such practices are in place.

Local journalist Arved Breidaks told ERR that the election of city council chair Anti Haugas and mayor Anti Allas will help the region get more airtime in Tallinn.

He said: "What the [former council] deputies who have now become Riigikogu MPs have stressed on several occasions was that they want to bring regional politics and regional issues to the table more, so that our life here in southeastern Estonia will start to improve."

Voting in Värska kultuurimaja, in the Võru-, Valga- and Põlva counties district, Sunday, March 5, 2023. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

As to precisely why Reform performed well in spite of the party's association with the Nursipalu expansion, Breidaks said that its strong list was key. "Among them, of course, [former education minister] Liina Kersna stood out, as she has not forgotten the voters here even between elections."

Haugas said that: "I definitely intend to use this, as I believe that this time there is an extremely rare opportunity where many southeast Estonians can themsevles start to influence southeast Estonia."

At the same time a new mayor is needed in the city, as Anti Allas (SDE) polled at 1,968 votes.

While Allas is not obliged to take up his seat, he says he will do so.

Anti Allas Source: SDE

"As promised, I will do that, I will go to the Riigikogu. Now we have to take advantage of this opportunity; if so many people who are concerned about southeastern Estonia have been elected to the parliament at the same time, then this is a very big thing," Allas said.

Allas pledged to look for the next mayor of Võru as soon as possible, saying he had already made such a promise to friends and colleagues.

The full list of MPs the Võru, Valga and Põlva counties district is sending to the Riigikogu (aside from Anti Haugas, Anti Allas and Liina Kersna is): Maido Ruusmann, Eerik-Niiles Kross and Andrus Seeme from Reform, Rain Epler and Ants Frosch from EKRE, Igor Taro (Eesti 200), Ester Karuse (Center) and Priit Sibul (Isamaa).

All of the MPs won district mandates, except for Kross, Seeme and Sibul, who were awarded compensation mandates (see here for an explanation of what these terms mean).

The above figures are based on State Electoral Committee (VVK) data, while in some cases named individuals may not actually take up seats long-term, for instance if they get made government ministers.

The prime minister announced Tuesday morning that Eesti 200 and SDE would be invited to the table for coalition talks.

More analysis of what happened in the Ida-Viru County district is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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