Riigikogu elections, 1990-2003

The first competitive elections between several political forces and candidates in Estonia were the elections to the Supreme Council in 1990. However, these cannot be regarded as completely free, as the Republic of Estonia had not yet restored its national independence and it was still a part of the Soviet Union. Consequently Estonian citizenship was not yet enshrined in law, and the right to vote was held by all residents of Estonian territory of voting age. This circumstance is illustrated by the size of the electorate, which in 1990 extended considerably beyond that for subsequent parliamentary elections. Another feature specific to the 1990 election was the embryonic state of the party system. There were no parties in the classical sense in the election campaign; candidates stood mainly for social movements and electoral lists.

Because of all these peculiarities of the transition period, statistics about the elections are incomplete. Making comparisons with subsequent elections is complicated and not particularly exact as to either content or statistics.

Basic statistics about parliamentary elections, 1990-2003  

1990
1992
1995
1999
2003
Size of electorate
1.164.603661.074791.957857.270859.714
Participation %
78,267,868,957,452,8
Candidates
39362812561885963*
Electoral lists
1617161211
Independent candidates
No data25121916
Electoral lists gaining seats
No data7776
Women gaining seats
713121820
Most votes won by
No dataJ.Toomepuu
16 904
A.Rüütel
17 193
E.Savisaar
14 543
E.Savisaar
12 960
Winning party
People's FrontFatherlandCoalition Party & Rural People`s UnionCentreCentre

* Unlike previous years, the electoral law set an upper limit on the number of candidates nominated
by one party.

In 1992 and 1995 the election contest was dominated by electoral alliances, the aim of which was to bring together otherwise relatively diverse forces. Electoral alliances united both social popular movements (The Union of Invalid Associations, “Mercy” [Halastus], the Estonian Pensioners’ League (1992), “Justice” (Õiglus) the Estonian Nationalist Central Association (1995), or some parties which alone would not have been able to exceed the 5% threshold on their own. As far as parties are concerned, alliances for election purposes became the norm even for the later formation of organisations. For example, this was the way in which the Estonian National Independence Party merged with the Fatherland Union, and likewise with the smaller agrarian parties. Many parties which took part in elections during the transition period have now been dissolved. For instance, of those that took part in the 1995 election, 12 no longer exist. Because of the constant organisational changes and mergers, it is quite difficult to assess the election success of the parties in the longer term. Figure 4.2 expresses the votes given to the most influential parties in all the Riigikogu elections. If in the first elections one electoral list gained more votes than others, in the two latest elections the distribution of votes is markedly more even. The leading parties get 15-25% of the vote, the others which gained seats in the Riigikogu get 6-8%. Stable support has grown for the Centre Party and the Reform Party, the former of which has won three elections. The number of votes for the Fatherland Union and the Social Democrats (ESDP) has fluctuated more, which in the case of the Fatherland Union can be ascribed to rises and falls in the prominence of nationalist issues in public debate.

The apogee of popularity of the Russian parties came in 1995, when an electoral alliance representing the Russian-speaking population, “Our Home is Estonia”, gained 6 seats in the Riigikogu. By the next elections they were no longer vouchsafed that advantage, and the more influential Russian-Estonian politicians joined Estonian parties. The Russian parties have not been able to collaborate, as a result of which in 2003 their support from the electorate ranged between 0.2 and 2.2% (for the Russian Party in Estonia and the United People’s Party of Estonia respectively).

Of the independent candidates, none have gained a parliamentary seat, which affirms the clear orientation toward the list system for the parties. In the course of time the number of individuals standing as candidates has likewise steadily fallen, which indicates the formation of a certain social category.

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