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Plan to redraw Estonia's electoral boundaries stuck in deadlocked Riigikogu

A ballot box in Estonia.
A ballot box in Estonia. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

A plan unveiled by the coalition government to redraw Estonia's electoral boundaries, in order to make districts more closely reflect present-day population distributions and therefore make them more representative, is, perhaps ironically, stuck at the Riigikogu thanks to the long-running impasse there.

Originally the government, via the justice minister, was supposed to present this plan this month.

Estonia's 12 voting districts at Riigkogu elections have remained unchanged for 20 years. However, demographic changes twinned with the d'Hondt system of proportional representation used in direct elections have led to a growth in influence in the more populous districts.

For instance, whereas in 2003, the Harju and Rapla County district, along with the three Tallinn districts, returned 38 mandates to the Riigikogu, at the March election this year, that figure had risen to 47 MPs, at the 101-seat chamber, ie. nearly 50 percent of the total.

Recommendations on a potential electoral district organization include the merging of Ida-Viru County with the sparsely populated Lääne-Viru County (in fact, this was once a single district, the separation was made in order to diminish the influence of Center Party co-founder Edgar Savisaar (1950-2022) – ed.).

Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) told ERR that: "Unfortunately, it has not been viable to discuss this topic, so analysis has not been completed yet."

"At present, it is not clear when exactly it will reach the government," he went on.

This was largely the result of a deadlocked Riigikogu, he went on.

"Since the Riigikogu is essentially at deadlock, meaning when new legislative initiatives are presented there they remain stuck, we have not moved forward with this topic at the planned pace," Laanet said.

The proposal came as part of the government's action plan for 2023-2027, where voting districts would be changed to improve representation uniformly across Estonia.

"We will take the proposals of the election commission as a basis and make decisions during 2023," the program says.

The plan also stated that the justice minister would present the analysis and proposals relating to redrawing Estonia's electoral boundaries in December 2023, ie. this month.
The Estonian National Electoral Committee (VVK) tasked the State Electoral Office (SVT) in turn to order analysis from the University of Tartu, or to involve an expert in the ongoing discussions.

Since returning to work in September, the Riigikogu has been largely gridlocked from both sides – opposition, whose largest party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has been enacting a filibuster on legislation, and from the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition, which has been tying the passing of bills to a motion of confidence.

Since the coalition has 60 seats at the 101-seat chamber, such a motion of confidence is a shoo-in (if it failed the coalition would have to resign) but it also means that MPs are only voting on that motion, and not the content and substance of a bill – which they do not even get the chance to debate on or question a bill before it is passed.

Riigikogu elections utilize 12 voting districts nationwide, while for local elections, there are, following a 2017 reorganization, 79 districts, one for each municipality.

At European elections, Estonia is treated as one single constituency (with seven MEPs), while presidents are not directly elected by the people.

The e-vote is treated as a separate entity rather than pertaining to any electoral district.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

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