Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Estonian Riigikogu (Parliament)
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

The Republic of Estonia held a parliamentary election on Sunday, March 6, 2011. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the Baltic republic's unicameral Parliament - the Riigikogu - is presented here.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results will be available here. In addition, the Estonian National Electoral Committee will have detailed results in Estonian and English of the 2014 European election in Estonia.

National- and district-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Riigikogu elections:

      March 6, 2011      
      March 4, 2007      
      March 2, 2003      
      March 7, 1999      
      March 5, 1995      
      September 20, 1992      

The election statistics presented in this space come from results published by the Estonian National Electoral Committee, which has detailed 2011 election results in Estonian here. Note that the number and composition of the electoral districts changed in 1995 and again in 2003.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Republic of Estonia, the Riigikogu, is composed of 101 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office. Elections to the Riigikogu are carried out by a three-stage proportional representation (PR) system. Political parties present lists of candidates in twelve multi-member districts, where independent candidates may also run for office. In addition, parties submit a national list of candidates, with nominated candidates included in both the parties' national lists and their corresponding district lists. District lists are open, and electors vote for a particular candidate in a district list rather for than a party. Since 2007, electors may cast electronic votes or e-votes in Riigikogu elections, using Internet-connected personal computers equipped with an ID card reader.

Riigikogu seats are initially filled in each district by the Hare method, under which an electoral quota is calculated by dividing the total number of valid votes by the number of seats to be allocated. Any candidate that obtains a number of votes equal to or larger than the quota is elected to office. Then, the number of votes won in the district by each party that obtains at least five percent of the nationwide vote is divided by the electoral quota; the result, disregarding fractions, is the initial number of mandates allocated to the party. Since 2003, this figure is increased by one for each party with a fraction larger than or equal to seventy-five percent of the quota. Mandates won by candidates elected with full quotas are deducted from their party's district seat total, and the remaining seats are assigned to unelected party candidates with the largest number of votes and least ten percent of the quota.

If there remain unallocated seats after the distribution of district mandates, all 101 Riigikogu seats are distributed at the national level among parties that receive at least five percent of the vote, by means of a modified version of the d'Hondt rule that uses the series 1, 20.9, 30.9, 40.9, etc. as divisors. Seats won by a party at the district level are then subtracted from its corresponding nationwide seat total, and the remaining compensation mandates are assigned to unelected candidates on the party's national list, in the order in which they appear on the list, provided (since 2003) they have won at least five percent of their district's electoral quota.

The Political Parties

Estonia's party system has been characterized by a relatively high degree of political fragmentation and volatility since 1991, when the country regained its independence after fifty-one years of annexation by the Soviet Union. No single party has won an absolute majority in the Riigikogu since 1992, and short-lived coalition governments have frequently ruled the Baltic nation. The 2003 and 2007 Riigikogu elections brought further changes to the party system, which nevertheless began to show some signs of stabilization.

Specifically, the right-of-center, liberal Estonian Reform Party and the center-left Estonian Center Party have remained two of Estonia's largest parties since 1999. The Center Party topped the poll in both the 1999 and 2003 parliamentary elections, while Reform came in a strong third place in both contests. However, in 2003 the new, center-right Res Publica emerged as the second largest party, winning the same number of seats as the Center Party and displacing the conservative Pro Patria Union; the latter lost considerable support and came in a distant fifth place, behind the rural-oriented People's Union of Estonia. Res Publica leader Juhan Parts then formed a coalition government with Reform and the People's Union, but his cabinet collapsed just two years later. Reform Party leader Andrus Ansip succeeded Parts as prime minister, and has held office since then - the longest-ever tenure of a democratically elected Estonian head of government.

Prime Minister Ansip headed a center-right coalition government composed of the Estonian Center Party, his Reform Party and the People's Union until the 2007 Riigikogu election, in which Reform emerged as the largest party, narrowly ahead of the Center Party, while the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (a 2006 merger of Res Publica and the Pro Patria Union) slipped to third place. Following the election, Ansip formed a new right-of-center coalition cabinet composed of the Reform Party, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union and the Social Democratic Party (previously the Moderates), with the Center Party, the Estonian Greens - who secured parliamentary representation for the first time since 1992 - and the People's Union in opposition. The Social Democrats left the coalition government in 2009, but Ansip remained in power as head of a minority government.

In the 2011 Riigikogu election, both the Reform Party and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union registered slight gains, securing an overall parliamentary majority. Among the opposition parties, the Social Democrats scored substantial gains, but the Center Party lost ground in the election; meanwhile, both the Estonian Greens and the People's Union fell below the five percent threshold, losing all their seats in the Riigikogu. Shortly after the election, the ruling parties renewed their coalition agreement, and Prime Minister Ansip continued in office.

Estonia has a large ethnic Russian community - about one-quarter of the country's population - but its electoral clout is relatively limited: many ethnic Russians are not Estonian citizens and thus cannot vote in parliamentary elections. Nonetheless, since 1995 an increasing number of ethnic Russian voters have lined up behind the Estonian Center Party. Under the leadership of the highly controversial Edgar Savisaar - a former prime minister who now holds office as mayor of Estonia's capital city of Tallinn - the Center Party has cultivated close ties with Russia's ruling United Russia party.

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Last update: May 25, 2014.