Support ratings for Estonia's major political parties may be influenced by whom the Center Party picks as its new leader in September, and whether the choice will take the party down a more conservative or a more liberal route, according to expert Aivar Voog, of market research firm Kantar Emor.
The decision will also affect the extent to which the party represents more the Estonian-speaking population, or the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia, Voog noted, in the light of recently published Kantar Emor ratings.
Center's rating per Kantar has remained relatively stable and in the 16-18 percent over the past year, a year during which a Riigikogu election was held, back in March.
This can be affected by whom the party elects as its next leader at September's congress, former minister Tanel Kiik, or current Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart.
Current incumbent Jüri Ratas has announced he will not seek reelection as party leader, while no other candidates have declared themselves in the running as his replacement, so far.
Voog said Thursday that: "Either we see a move towards a more liberal segment of the electorate, where there will be more competition with the Reform Party, the Social Democrats (SDE, and Eesti 200, or we see a move to a more conservative demographic, in which case there will be more competition with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa."
Reform, SDE and Eesti 200 have been in office since April, while Center, last in office with Reform down to June 2022, are in opposition, alongside EKRE and Isamaa.
Center and EKRE have traditionally been seen as the most populist parties in Estonia, Reform, SDE and Eesti 200 the more internationalist and Atlanticist, with Isamaa straddling that divide – though it is not a particularly clear-cut divide and one can find exceptions within most of the parties.
Isamaa's new leader, Urmas Reinsalu, is a former foreign minister, and replaced Helir-Valdor Seeder, who could be fairly assessed as being from the more inward-looking wing of the party.
Getting back to Center, Voog also noted that the choice the party faces may instead see a shift in focus along ethnic, rather than purely political, lines.
The Reform Party, the prime minister's party, is inch-by-inch recouping its longer-term rating trend, Voog noted.
Reform took a hit in support after it reentered office with SDE and Eesti 200, partly due to unpopular tax hikes and family benefits cuts, most of which the party had not explicitly referenced ahead of the March 5 election.
Voog said that: "The average support level for the Reform Party in the last five years stands at 28 percent. This [increase in support]has been made possible by the converse falling trend seen with their closest competitors Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats, at the beginning of the summer."
Eesti 200's support rating in particular has been in freefall since the eve of the election, not helped along by two unrelated alleged corruption incidents affecting two of its 14 MPs, one of whom had to step down.
This decline has bottomed out, however, Voog added, and the party's rating should not drop below the 9-percent mark.
According to Voog, the relative positions of EKRE and Isamaa will apparently not alter significantly during the rest of the summer, but events taking place at the Riigikogu autumn session of the will be more significant for them.
These events include the state budget process, which runs September to December, and the processing of a planned car tax, sponsored by the Reform Party.
"Perhaps they will stand out there. Isamaa's rating recovered somewhat at the start of summer, but given that EKRE is becoming more attractive to their supporters again, and if Isamaa gets overshadowed by EKRE come September, the difference in the ratings of these two parties will again be larger," Voog added.
Kantar Emor is commissioned by ERR to produce monthly party ratings results. ERR also publishes the regular ratings from two other pollsters in Estonia, Norstat, and Turu-uuringute.
Center, Reform, EKRE, Eesti 200, SDE and Isamaa are the six parties represented at the XV Riigikogu.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Urmet Kook