PULASKI COMMENTARY: The Baltic Resolve: Estonia’s 2023 Parliamentary Election, its consequences, and the influence on the war in Ukraine (Sebastian Czub)

PULASKI COMMENTARY: The Baltic Resolve: Estonia’s 2023 Parliamentary Election, its consequences, and the influence on the war in Ukraine (Sebastian Czub)

The 2023 Estonian Parliamentary Elections have come to an end. Victory was claimed by the Reform Party, under the leadership of current Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. The ruling party scored 31.2%  of all votes, thus securing 37 out 101 seats of the Estonian parliament.[i] The second place went to the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), with 16.1%  of votes and 17 seats. The third largest group in the new parliament will be the Estonian Centre Party, which managed to secure 15.3%  of votes and 16 seats. The most surprising result however is the rise of Estonia 200,  with an astounding 13.3%  of votes and 13 seats. In the 2019 elections the party failed to reach the required 5%  mark needed to enter the parliament, with just 4.3%  of votes, this translates to a whopping 9 percent rise in Estonia 200s popularity. The Social-Democrats, and Isamaa party have claimed 9 and 8 seats respectively. Prime Minister Kallas and her Reform Party may have emerged as the primary force the question remains however how will they manage.

Coalition Governments and Issues of Cooperation

Despite the relative strength and popularity of the Reform Party, Kaja Kallas’ administration had faced several challenges in its time. In 2019 the Reform Party secured 28.9%  of votes, thus winning the election against the then ruling Centre Party. However, despite the apparent victory they failed to create a government, with a coalition of Centre Party, Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), and Isamaa surging forward in a bid to set up administration. This government managed to rule for almost half of the term, before being brought down by corruption scandals and internal disputes. This fall gave the opportunity for Kaja Kallas to set up a joint government with the Centre Party, which previously refused to cooperate. The coalition began on 26th January 2021 and lasted until 14th July 2022, when it fell apart due to internal disputes between the two parties. On 18th July 2022 Kaja Kallas managed to form another coalition government, this time with the Isamaa and the Social Democrats. The brand new coalition was a hybrid of political attitudes with the left leaning Social Democrats and right wing Isamaa. Decision on cooperation was pinned by an egalitarian ideal with each of the factions providing five ministers for the government, with one of Reform Parties candidates becoming the Prime Minister. Despite the superficial conflict of interests a similar situation occurred several times in Estonian politics, and potentially for good reasons. The current administration has been the most stable coalition in the 2019-2023 term. The government sustained and enhanced its commitment to supporting Ukraine, oftentimes leading the way for other western states in the matter, with Estonia’s military assistance reaching the level of 1 percent of the country’s GDP – 370 million euro.[ii]

The 2023 elections showed the effectiveness and popularity of Kaja Kallas’ new government, with an increase of votes, from 28.9 to 31.2% . This is also much more vital, as Kremlin information campaigns strived to show that the majority of western society does not want to keep supporting Ukraine. Despite that however, Kaja Kallas is enjoying growing popularity, showing that “there is no fatigue in the West regarding Ukraine” as stated by Oleksandr Merezkho – a member of Ukraine’s parliament.[iii] It also serves as a political blow against the machinations of the Kremlin, trying to grind down western resolve in supporting Ukraine – so far unsuccessfully. Though other members of the government coalition saw a decrease in support, potentially challenging the ability of the coalition to continue into the new term. However, given the high popularity of Kaja Kallas, proven by the record breaking number of votes cast for her, it is quite safe to state that the new government will probably be headed by her and the Reform Party. It is quite possible that Kaja Kallas will continue the so far successful cooperation with Isamaa and Social Democrats, in an effort to strengthen and stabilise Estonian administration, hoping not to repeat the chaotic reshuffling of the previous term. The three parties still possess enough seats to form a majority government, however other factions may potentially seek to challenge the balance of power. Notable here is the Estonia 200 party which was formed from ex-members of the Isamaa and Social Democrat parties, and which now is in possession of 13 seats. Whether the new party will seek to challenge the existing coalition under Kaja Kallas’ or support it remains to be seen.  What is known however is that the EKRE will stand against Kaja Kallas, due to ideological differences, Ukraine among them.[iv] The Centre Party’s allegiances are as of yet unknown, as many of their policies align with the Reform Party, but the history of unsuccessful cooperation and doubts on the Centre’s position on supporting Ukraine might prove problematic. What is quite sure however, is that the Reform Party’s leadership will continue to strengthen the relations between Estonia and the EU, with the majority of the current administration supporting progressive values so present in the policies of the West.

Influence on the support for Ukraine

Estonian support to Ukraine is likely to continue without major disruption or changes in policy. The forming of a new government will of course cause some minor issues to the entire process, but given the staunch commitment of the previous government and the Estonian people Ukraine will be continuously supported. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas stated: “I think that with such a strong mandate, the (aid to Ukraine) will not change because other parties, except EKRE and maybe Center, have chosen the same line”.[v] This might suggest however, that other parties, such as EKRE and Centre which hold together 33 out 101 seats, might try to change Estonia’s policy of support to Ukraine. This would further point to the possibility that the Reform Party will seek to create a coalition government with its current allies in the Isamaa and Social Democrats parties, in an effort to continue the aid to Ukraine. Minister Pevkur might provide some stability in the coming months, as his membership of the Reform Party and commitment to the Ukrainian cause, will probably see him continue in his role for the second term, thus further securing Estonian support of Ukraine.

Moreover, it is possible that Estonian aid will increase further, as according to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas the defence of Ukraine and its freedom is a guarantee of Estonian safety and freedom.[vi] This could be seen in practice with Estonia’s most recent pledge of support to Ukraine worth an astounding 113 million euro. As part of the package Ukraine will receive much needed artillery and ammunition, much needed resources, especially now with the reignited Russian assault on Bakhmut and apparent Ukrainian artillery shell shortages.[vii] After all, despite potential changes to the Estonian government, the country will continue to act as a staunch ally of Ukraine.

Author: Sebastian Czub, Analyst, Casimir Pulaski Foundation

Supported by a grant from the Open Society Initiative for Europe within the Open Society Foundations

[i] Wirtualna Polska, “Wybory w Estonii. Pierwsza taka sytuacja w historii”, Wirtualna Polska, March 3, 2023, https://wiadomosci.wp.pl/estonia-zdecydowala-znamy-wyniki-wyborow-parlamentarnych-6873342256859840a.

[ii]  “Estonia’s military support to Ukraine will increase to more than 1% of GDP”, Republic of Estonia Government, January 19, 2023, https://valitsus.ee/en/news/estonias-military-support-ukraine-will-increase-more-1-gdp.

[iii]  David Brennan, “Why Estonia Election Results Are a Blow to Putin”, Newsweek, March 3, 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/why-estonia-election-results-are-blow-putin-1785715.

[iv] David Brennan, “Why Estonia Election Results Are a Blow to Putin”, Newsweek, March 3, 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/why-estonia-election-results-are-blow-putin-1785715.

[v] Jari Tanner, “Party of Estonian PM, strong Ukraine backer, gains big win”, The Washington Post, March 5, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/estonia-election-kallas-helme/2023/03/05/b73c6c38-bb26-11ed-b0df-8ca14de679ad_story.html.

[vi] “Estonia’s military support to Ukraine will increase to more than 1% of GDP”, Republic of Estonia Government, January 19, 2023, https://valitsus.ee/en/news/estonias-military-support-ukraine-will-increase-more-1-gdp.

[vii] “Estonia’s military support to Ukraine will increase to more than 1% of GDP”, Republic of Estonia Government, January 19, 2023, https://valitsus.ee/en/news/estonias-military-support-ukraine-will-increase-more-1-gdp.