The Progressive Post

The Estonian parliamentary elections: a boost for e-voting and elected women

Board member of the Estonian Social Democratic Party, she has also been a candidate at the parliamentary elections
10/03/2023

The Estonian parliamentary elections on 5 March have broken voter participation records, but also records in the number of mandates achieved by the winning party and the number of women elected to parliament. Progressive parties have won convincingly.

The Estonian parliamentary elections have been held on 5 March. In the week before the ballot, it was possible to cast preliminary and electronic votes. On election day, however, it was only possible to vote by paper ballot in a local polling station. As the first country in the world, Estonia had introduced electronic in the 2005 local government elections. Ever since, electronic voting has increasingly gained popularity, as it is easy and quick, and as it can be done on everybody’s own electronical device, regardless of location. Voters are identified either by their ID card, or by a mobile ID. This time, for the first time, share of e-voters rose slightly above half (50.98 per cent) of all the votes – an increase from 46.9 per cent at the local elections in 2021, and from 43.8 per cent in the previous parliamentary elections four years ago. When the electronic vote was introduced in 2005, only 1.9 per cent of voters had used this possibility.

Usually, many voters of progressive parties prefer e-voting, prompting conservatives to highlight the alleged insecurity of electronic voting, and suggesting to their voters to use paper ballots to cast their votes. A few days after the election, right-wing populists have officially disputed the results of the e-voting and are demanding a recount, which was to be expected.

The overall number of voter participation was also record-breaking for Estonia. This time, 615,009 voters, or 63.7 per cent of the electorate, have cast their votes. This high voter turnout can be explained by the polarisation in society. The liberal, as well as the conservatives parties did everything to mobilise their voters. Progressive parties won the majority with 60 of the 101 seats in parliament. The winner was the liberal Reform Party of the ruling prime minister Kaja Kallas, with 37 MPs, the highest number of seats ever achieved by a political party in the parliamentary history of Estonia. 

Among the reason for this resounding victory are Kallas’ strong stance for national security and her support for Ukraine, which are important issues for a country which shares a long land border with Russia and which hosts a Russian-speaking minority of almost 25 per cent. On the other side of the political spectrum, the right-wing conservative populist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) has shown unfriendliness towards Ukrainian refugees, which has led to a drop in its popularity. Before the elections, opinion polls had predicted EKRE could win the elections and get a chance to form a coalition, but they ended in second place, with 17 seats only. With 16 mandates, the biggest loser of these elections, the Centre Party, finished in third place. The liberal Eesti200 – or Estonia200 –, took the fourth place with 14 seats. It is a progressive party that was barely out of parliament four years ago but has grown into a considerable political force today. The fifth-largest parliamentary group is the Social Democratic Party (SDE) with nine seats. Social Democrats were predicted to get only six–8 seats, but the outcome was better than expected. The conservative Isamaa party lost four seats compared to the previous elections, down eight seats now. Three more political parties participated but did not manage to overcome the electoral threshold of 5 per cent. However, two of them received more than 2 per cent of the vote and secured the party’s state funding for the next four years.

One more record was broken and quite an important one: 30 women have been elected to parliament, up from 28 seats four years ago, and 24 eight years ago. In the first Estonian parliament in 1919-1920, there have only been nine female members. It is also worth mentioning that the best-scoring candidates of the three progressive parties were women. The percentage of women on the electoral lists of these parties was also higher than in the lists of conservative parties.
In conclusion, from a progressive point of view, one can be satisfied with the result of the elections. The dark clouds of worry about Estonia’s political future have more or less disappeared. Three progressive political parties – Reform, Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats – have started negotiations to form a government coalition. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that agreements are reached to secure a progressive future, and liberal governance for Estonia.

Photo credits: SDE

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