The Reform Party has started the process of selecting its candidates for June's European Parliament elections, the party said on Wednesday.
As far as is known, no other major Estonian political party has started the process of selecting its candidates for polling day, Sunday, June 9.
Estonia is treated as one single electoral district at European elections, and since 2019, thanks to the post-Brexit redistribution of some of the U.K.'s former MEP seats, candidates are chasing seven mandates, rather than the six as was previously the case.
Currently, Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE) have two MEPs, while Isamaa, the Center Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has one mandate each.
Reform's candidates are likely to be identified by early April, the party says, and there will be nine of them in total.
Timo Suslov (pictured), secretary general of the Reform Party, told ERR Wednesday that: "The procedure will be exactly the same as head of the Riigikogu elections (in March 2023 – ed.). You can submit your candidacy, provided you are a party member, and then internal party e-elections, party members decide who the nine running will be."
Suslov was unable to report if any Reform Party member had yet submitted their candidacy as of Wednesday, the first day of open submissions.
The internal ballot to pick the MEP candidates running for Reform take place March 28 to April 4, he said.
Suslov said he hoped that those wishing to run will be pro-active and engage in canvassing and presenting their candidacies, but added that the party will also organize debates between candidates, to present them to party members and the wider public.
Given the d'Hondt system of proportional representation used in elections in Estonia, parties spend plenty of time assembling ordered candidate lists, with those figures likely to attract plenty of votes at or near the top of the list, in the hope that once they have clinched a seat, excess votes can be distributed to those lower down the list. This can sometimes allow those who would not have won a seat in their own right, to do so – though with the small number of mandates available at European elections, there is less scope for such redistribution.
On the other hand, European elections more than any other type of direct election (to local municipalities and to the Riigikogu) tend to be more candidate- and personality-based, rather than party-based.
Reform has two MEPs at present, one of whom is former party leader and former prime minister Andrus Ansip. A much publicized spat between Ansip and current leader and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas flared up again on Wednesday, when Kallas publicly addressed Ansip in a letter, asking him not to run in the European elections this time.
On this, Secretary General Suslov said that while tensions of that kind hardly come as a surprise, the public exchange of opinions does not benefit the party.
"It is vital to keep the team united and to head into our internal elections as a strong lineup," he said, also evoking a folk aphorism to the effect that no soup is eaten at as high a temperature as it was cooked at.
"So let's allow this soup to cool, I suppose everything will reach its resolution in the end," he said.
Each party member holds nine votes at the internal elections, and the results in this case are based on a simple first-past-the-post system, ie. the nine candidates who amass the most votes at the internal election will be the ones to run at the European Parliament elections on June 9.
The actual running order of these will be put in place by the party's candidate list committee, Suslov said.
"The list committee will then determine the sequence that would be best for the party in the European Parliament elections," Suslov went on, adding that: "Hopefully, the board will confirm this list the next day, and by April 7, a general meeting will be convened by the board on that day, where the entire list will be re-confirmed."
Reform's other sitting MEP is former foreign minister Urmas Paet.
Speculation has arisen linking Kaja Kallas' name with one top-level EU job and also with the post of commissioner from Estonia. Both positions become vacant some time after the European elections, while Kallas is known to be quite close to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who may remain in office after the elections.
Kallas already sat in the European Parliament 2014-2019.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots