Close contest expected between Reform and Center parties.
TARTU - Estonia’s Parliamentary elections are approaching. They are going to be held on March 6, with of e-voting possible between Feb. 24 and March 2. The previous election was an intense contest between Estonia’s Reform Party and the Center Party. In the end, the Center Party faced a close defeat. These two parties still have the most supporters, and they are the main competitors for an overall win. Still, a lot has changed, compared to the previous elections.
The Estonian daily Postimees’ survey, conducted by independent research company Turu-uuringute, shows the Reform Party leading in seven districts out of twelve. In some regions their lead is up to 15 percent over the nearest competitors. The Center Party leads in five regions, and are the most popular in Tallinn and Ida-Virumaa.
The vice-chairman of the Center Party, Kadri Simson, does not believe in these polls. “We have won the last two elections, the European Parliament elections and local government elections. It is sure that Estonian politics needs a change and, because of that I think that our supporters will come and vote this year too,” she states. Kirsten Michal, the General Secretary of the Reform Party, is also skeptical about the surveys. “Nothing is sure in this year’s elections. In 2007, 1.7 percent of voters decided the outcome of the election.”
The Center Party has recently had a lot of media spotlight because of Edgar Savisaar, the chairman of the party, who was accused of receiving 1.5 million euros from Moscow for increasing Russia’s influence in Estonia. The information, based on an Estonian Security Police report, calls Savisaar a “Russian-influence” agent.
Savisaar, currently the mayor of Tallinn, has denied all the allegations, saying they were just an attempt to discredit his Center Party before parliamentary elections in March. The scandal is still quite fresh, even Estonia’s President Toomas Ilves has stated that he would veto the entry of the opposition Center Party into the government because of the veiled financing of the party, which poses a threat to constitutional order and democracy. Simson believes that these accusations are untrue. “It is a part of the preelection campaign what was amplified by several key coalition ministers.”
Political scientist Ivar Tallo thinks that the main difference between this year’s, and previous parliamentary elections, is that parties are more responsible with handling of their money. He says “In the 2007 elections they continuously divided money and promised absurd things. For instance, the Reform Party’s slogans ‘Tax-free Fridays!’ and ‘Estonia among the five richest European Union Nations!’” In addition, he thinks that electoral debates have become more polite. In former years different parties tried to defeat each other with big poster campaigns; nowadays there has been much more discussion and debates.
Simson reckons that the main questions of these elections are about the economy and the labor market. “Compared with previous parliamentary elections, the situtation in the Estonian economy and labor market is a lot worse. Today, the main problems are ongoing high unemployment, a quick rise of prices and the departure of working-age people from Estonia. For these problems we offer solutions. Estonia needs a government with active economic policy.”
Michael on the one hand agrees that the economy is important, but the other question is what path Estonia will choose. “When we choose the left-wing parties, then it means a rapid tax rise with real estate taxes and a car tax of approximately 3,500 euros for every regitstered car. Or, we can choose the financially conservative way that is represented by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. From these choices everything begins,” he says.
One thing that has changed is that there are a lot of independent candidates. For certain, European Parliamentary elections in 2009 have encouraged this. There is an independent candidate, Indrek Tarand, who won a whopping 25.8 percent of the vote, with a campaign which can best be described as strong anti-party rhetoric. With that, Tarand secured for himself one of Estonia’s six seats in the European Parliament.
Estonian Greens have even offered several well-known single candidates an opportunity to run on their overall list in very high places, without the obligation of being their party member. Popular individuals like journalist and chief editor of Estonia’s cultural newspaper Sirp, Tarand and scenarist Artur Talvik, have accepted the offer. Tarand, although being an independent candidate, has even been nominated as their prime minister candidate. “It was mutual interest. This way a large number of candidates have the opportunity to stand for elections without being dependent on parties. Estonian Greens got a chance to involve active persons. It was also pragmatic reasoning, while Greens’ mentality and world-view fit me,” said Tarand. He added that, because of Estonia’s proportional electoral system, the persons who campaign alone do not have good prospects of being elected.
Tallo also greets the idea, saying that “It is refreshing that Estonian Greens are doing something like that. With today’s electoral system it is quite impossible for single candidates to succeed.”
“I do not believe that you can name those people who are in the Estonian Greens’ overall party list as independent candidates. They run on the party list, and it is incorrect to think of them as independent. I think it is cynical and knowingly confusing to voters,” believes Martin Helme, the leader of the Estonian National Movement and a foreign policy analyst, who is also running for parliamentary elections as an independent candidate. He doesn’t agree that because of the Estonian electoral system, it is difficult for a single candidate to succeed in the elections. “Prospects are quite good. In Estonia, there have always been more than ten direct mandates in the elections. It is wrong to say that independent candidates will never overcome the electoral threshold of 5 percent. Public opinion polls show that the popularity of single candidates is about 10 percent. Therefore, it seems to me quite achievable,” says Helme.
Although public opinion polls show that the Reform Party has a large lead, Tallo does not want to predict the outcome, saying that “The charm of free elections is that everybody know the rules and the outcome is a surprise. If the outcome doesn’t surprise anyone, the elections aren’t free.”