From election victory to government: patterns of coalition politics

Politics in Estonia have up to now confirmed the rule that the proportional representation system leads to multi-party democracy and coalition government. The government is formed by the parties gaining the most votes in elections. However, an election victory does not automatically mean the prime minister’s portfolio – in order to form a government one has to find coalition partners and get the president’s support. Indeed, the Centre Party, which gained the most votes in the election, remained in opposition in both 1999 and 2003.

During the restoration of independence, all the governments except one (Mart Siimann’s government, 1997 – 1999) were majority governments. In the first half of the nineteen-nineties the coalitions were broader, encompassing more parties, and at the same time a party’s control over the formation of government and the work of ministers was weaker. In the mid-nineties it was not exceptional for a minister to be without a party and not to have been previously elected to the Riigikogu.

With the strengthening of the parties there has been a growth in their control over the government. Since the Riigikogu elections of 1999, parties have played an assured leading role in forming the governments, and as a rule coalition talks have begun even before the election results are made clear. Typically the coalitions have consisted of 2 – 3 parties which have a slight majority in the Riigikogu, and where each party has a roughly comparable number of ministerial posts. Among the governing parties the right wing has dominated, notably the liberal Reform Party.

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