Estonian elections – a tall order for the upcoming government

A week has passed since Estonian citizens cast their vote in the parliamentary elections.  The result? A strong showing for the liberal parties – Reform Party, Estonia200 and Social Democrats – all of whom stand for an open and pro-European Estonia, and for continuous support for Ukraine. The defining theme of these elections was by far the national security and the ongoing war in Ukraine, as to lesser extent the economic and social well-being amidst some of the highest inflation in Europe.

To understand the political dynamics at play, it bears emphasis that large-scale support to Ukraine is not questioned by any party, except for the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE). The parties of the right-wing conservative coalition that governed between April 2019 and January 2021 – EKRE, the Centre Party, and Isamaa – all lost votes. This was an unambiguous signal from the electorate that the populist right-wing politics EKRE would like to pursue – and did when in government, is not a desire shared by the majority of Estonian voters. As the turnout and results of individual parties show, people were mobilized to come out and vote.

Several records were set – clearly these elections mattered to the Estonian people

Since the introduction of e-voting in 2005 the election day has slowly been transformed into an election week, to better ensure that all Estonians are able to cast their votes in a manner most suitable to them. This election set new records for the number of e-votes cast (312 181 votes) and the first time that electronic votes surpassed paper ballots, with 51% of voters doing so online (compared to 301 620 doing so at polling stations).

Another record set was the highest turnout since regaining independence in 1991, at 63.7% of the eligible population. In another landmark moment, these elections delivered the best result for women in the history of the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) electoral history: 30 seats (compared to 28 in the previous elections) of 101 available seats went for women, although 70 per cent of the newly elected MPs are men. It is also worth highlighting that for five parties – the Reform Party, Eesti 200, Social Democrats, and the two smaller, Parempoolsed and the Greens parties who failed to reach the threshold – the obtaining highest number of personal votes were women.

This election saw landslide victory of the liberal Reform Party (31% of the vote and 37 seats in the Riigikogu), the most votes ever cast for a single candidate, for the incumbent PM Kaja Kallas (31 821 votes); the liberal Eesti200 gained 14 seats and Social Democrats 9 seats exceeding even their own expectations. And then there were the ones who had expected and hoped for more – the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s party (17 seats), the centre-left Centre Party (16 seats, an all-time low) and the conservative Isamaa (8 seats).

All of this has given grounds for experts, observers and the parties themselves to analyse the reasons behind these results.

Coalition negotiations begin in earnest, with national security setting the agenda

Traditionally, coalition negotiations kick-off shortly after the elections, so that the incoming government can assume its role as soon as possible following the confirmation of election results and the convening of parliament. This year proved no different. The winning Reform Party made an offer to commence coalition negotiations with Eesti200 and the Social Democrats on the Tuesday after the elections.

There is a broad agreement across the commentariat: Estonian voters have voted for an open and future-looking Estonia, for an Estonia supporting Ukraine with everything it can. One can debate the nuances, but the basis is clear.

So far, the coalition talks have advanced calmly, with politicians being open to comments and suggestions from different stakeholders from the public, private and third sectors. There is a clear agreement that national security frames the political agenda for years to come, having a significant impact on the state budget and related discussions.

In fact, the most difficult talks are expected to be held around the state budget and taxes, where viewpoints diverge the most, with calls to prioritise keeping the budget balanced against calls to increase certain investments and costs. Questions remain as to where any extra fiscal headroom will be found, or where exactly can the budget be cut in the least painful way possible. And what about the taxes – the debate circles aroundflat income tax versus differentiated income tax; should new taxes be introduced?

What is also clear is that a certain segment of society feels left behind and alienated, and the upcoming coalition has to take them seriously and listen to these different groups to make them feel part of society.

The green transition is a topic where the parties share a lot of common ground, so we can surely expect a boost in this regard. We will definitely see Estonia continuing its strong stance in foreign and security and defence policy, standing with Ukraine and for a united voice for a free world, in steadfast opposition to Russian interference.

A tall order

All in all, the expectations of society are high for the future coalition to deliver. Perhaps these will prove too high, given the scale of the challenges ahead.

Therefore, our general appeal to everyone, from regular people, companies, NGOs and local municipalities – is to always be active, speak out and listen to others. Make your case for better politics and do your part to help make our society a better place for all.

And our appeal to the politicians, quoting Annika Arras, CEO of Miltton New Nordics, is: “Listen. Listen. Listen. Wisdom. Empathy.”

Please contact for more information

Sandra Kamilova
Head of Public Affairs
+372 5667 5362

Kadri Vanem
Public Affairs Senior Consultant
+372 5818 0130