Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What Government for Estonia?

Defying all odds and opinion polls, the Reform Party stands as victor of Estonia's parliamentary elections this Sunday. Thus, Savisaars populist Centre Party was beaten by a close 1.7% margin. Together, the two reluctant coalition partners now form a majority of votes in the Estonian Parliament - the Riigikogu. It is, however, too early to say if Reformists and Centrists will continue their government cohabitation. In essence, the upcoming government formation may present almost any combination of parties in a coalition cabinet.

Sunday's election results must be characterised as a landslide victory for the Reformist Party, led by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. The party went from 17.7% support (19 seats) in the 2003 parliamentary elections to 27.8% (31 seats) now, thus increasing its support by 10% of the electorate. Thus, the Reformists will dominate the 101 seats' parliament as its single largest party, and Ansip has also been asked to form a new government by President Ilves. Ansip is also the first Estonian Prime Minister to survive an election, and the second Baltic after Latvia's Aigars Kalvītis. This does not necessarily mean that the current government coalition will remain in power. To the contrary, the election campaign has been very tough between the main coalition partners - Reformists and Centrists. Still, it might be a good idea to keep track of reservations at Tallinn restaurant Balthasar in coming days, to see whether a new "garlic coalition" may be reformed.

Concerning Edgar Savisaars Centre Party, it held its ground, and went from 25.4% (28 seats) in 2003 to 26.1% (29 seats) in the current elections. Due to the mentioned antagonism between the Centrists and Reformists during the election campaign, few observers believe that the parties will continue their government cohabitation. Still, together they would form an absolute majority in the Riigikogu, which might partly serve as a convenient solution to governability and partly marginalise the opposition. Despite indications to the contrary, this option should not be too lightly ruled out.

As for the third government coalition partner, the Estonian People's Union, the party remains in parliament, although almost halving its votes from 13% (13 seats) in 2003 to the now 7.1% (6 seats). The People's Union is a populist and nationalist agrarian party. The party, founded by former president Arnold Rüütel, has been in government with both the Reformists and Res Publica (now IRL - cf. below), and was also a coalition partner in the outgoing Ansip cabinet. Consequently, it might prove very convenient for Ansip to form a consistent right-wing government of Reformists, IRL, and the People's Party.

What might, at first sight, appear as the great election loser is the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL). In comparison to 2003, the party went from 31.9% (35 seats) to Sunday's result of merely 17.9% (19 seats). This result was however expected, and IRL actually had a stronger showing than expected. Last spring, the two conservative parties - Pro Patria and Res Publica - merged to unify the conservative electorate, which also made it Estonia's biggest opposition party. However, prior to unification, Juhan Parts' Res Publica government had been ousted, marginalising the party in Estonian politics. In view of this, the unified party's result in Sunday's elections was better than expected, despite the fact that it lost almost half its seats in parliament. Some of this loss may also be attributed to the Christian Democrats, which competed for the same votes as IRL and did not reach the 5% parliamentary threshold. As for IRL's potential for forming part of a new government, Reform Party leader Ansip hinted in this direction before the Sunday elections. However, judging from results, a Reformist-IRL coalition would need a third party to form a workable parliamentary majority. Together, the two parties occupy 50 parliamentary seats, falling below absolute majority by a single seat.

Such a partner might well be the Social Democrats, which also increased its votes from 7% (6 seats) in 2003 to 10.6% (10 seats) now. Prime Minister Ansip has also hinted that a leftist alternative might be preferrable, but whether this might include the Social Democrats or the Centre Party is unclear. Personal animosity between leading Reformists and Social Democrats is a factor that must be calculated with in this context, and in the end this might rule out a Social Democratic role in government.

Another alternative to a non-centrist government is the newcomer to Estonian politics, namely the Green Party. With 7.1% of votes (6 seats) they passed the parliamentary threshold with a wide margin. Speaking for such an alternative would be that a new party might be quite gullible for the other coalition parties once in government. A coalition between Reformists, the People's Union, and the Greens - as well as other combinations - is an unexptected option that might present too tempting an alternative to resist for Ansip.

All in all, next to everything seems up for grabs at the moment. As the obvious government former, Reform Party leader Ansip might choose next to any coalition partners he sees fit, and the few contradictory indications he has made so far only add to the impression of an unpredictable political landscape in the country. Still, the main result of the elections is - as a matter of fact - that relative political stability has been achieved for the first time since Estonia regained independence in 1991. As its neighbour Latvia, Estonia now strengthens the tendency towards a more robust political system in the Baltic States. This, in itself, constitutes a great success, regardless of which parties in the end will form the next government.


Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

This is in depth overview of the results. Not much is possible to know about the possible new government, because its ongfoing formation is intransparent but conclusions have validity. I'd add that for Estonia to have 31 seats in 101 parliament it is unusual. In that sense, similar to Latvia, we are seeing that economic development of recent years tend to cement to the top the politicians who, perhaps incidently are currently in the state management. Is it justified? I am not so sure. To me, it may well be that we are beginning to enjoy the outcome of decisions made long ago. When those decisions were made, bad things then happened.

Bez!Komentara said...

Sorry to disturb. Bez!Komentara is blog from Croatia, but blogger actually loves Russia. :-)

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Эстония в мировых СМИ,

Thank you for your kind words! As for the results cementing the position of top politicians, I honestly do not know. Perhaps you are right. Saavisar at least will have to be carried out of Estonian politics and the Centre Party feet first.

What one might assume is that markets and resources have now been divided among various powerful groups, and that an era of consolidation now starts. As I understand your reasoning, that would explain the newly won political stability in Estonia - as in Latvia for that sake.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Bez!Komentara,

I guess you refer to me adding your blog under Russia instead of Croatia. However, as I do not follow what goes on in the Balkans, I lack a blogroll covering these states. Still, you regularly write on Russia, and from what I can gather - my Croatian is not top of the line - your pieces are quite interesting. Hence, adding you to the Russia blogroll.