An Unholy Alliance in Estonia's 2019 Parliamentary Election
It was a victory that never came to be. The Reform Party of Estonia took the highest share of seats in the Estonian parliament in the 2019 Parliamentary Elections, but were unable to form government as the second-place Center Party appears to have formed a coalition of its own.
Jüri Ratas, the leader of the Center Party, is a familiar face in government having been the incumbent prime minister. While his continued leadership and experience will be good for the nation, there is an unusualness to how the Center Party has overcame the Reform Party’s electoral success and achieved victory.
The Center Party has historically been the party of the large Russian minority in Estonia. No party has captured the Russian vote as effectively and consistently. Outside of urban Tallinn, the only electoral district that the Center Party won a majority in was the eastern Ida-Virumaa district, an area on Estonia’s eastern border with Russia with the country’s highest proportion of ethnic Russians.
In order to form government after coming in second-place with 26 seats, the Center Party has formed an unholy alliance with the EKRE, a far-right ethno-nationalist party that received the third-highest share of votes. The contrasting political ideology and voter profiles of these two parties make their coalition bizarre. The EKRE advocates for the “survival of the Estonian ethnicity”, and its leader, Mart Helme, has expressed racism towards many groups, including Russians.
Helme is a divisive figure in Estonia whom many refuse to deal with. When considering options to form a coalition, Kaja Kallas, leader of the Reform Party, explicitly ruled out involving the EKRE. She instead attempted to broker a deal with the left-leaning SDE and right-wing Isamaa Party. This principled approach, while being fair to not involve or entertain the recent emergence of a major far-right party in Estonia, has ultimately squandered Reform’s success in the election. Center is poised to take power any day now with the support of both the EKRE and Isamaa.
The likelihood of this coalition surviving is negligible. While Kallas and the Reform Party remain on the sidelines as Center Party rule continues, they may not be there for long. It’s difficult to imagine how the irreconcilable differences between the Center Party and the EKRE could not make for conflict. Centrists and ethno-nationalists do not mix well, and stability is likely not in the cards for the future of Estonian government.