Center’s Pyrrhic victory and domination of election coalitions

Center Party election party in the Tallink Hotel restaurant City Grill House. Mihhail Kõlvart (left) and Jüri Ratas.
Center Party election party in the Tallink Hotel restaurant City Grill House. Mihhail Kõlvart (left) and Jüri Ratas. Photo: Tairo Lutter

The 2021 local elections saw more than a few key developments. The Center Party lost its absolute majority in Tallinn, with Katri Raik’s Election Coalition winning Narva and premise created for a so-called Süku coalition in Tartu. Tallinn’s Mustamäe city district elder Lauri Laats was the elections’ biggest surprise.

A total of 588,867 people voted in the local government council elections: 313,280 using a paper ballot and 275,587 online. Voter turnout came to 54.8 percent.

Almost half of all people who voted supported either the Center Party or election coalitions. The former took 24.4 percent and the latter 24.3 percent of the nationwide vote. While Center won the election in Tallinn, it lost its hegemony over the capital by a hair, securing 38 mandates in the 79-seat city council.

Destruction in Narva

The Center Party also won Valga, Mulgi, Vinni and Lüganuse municipalities and the cities of Kohtla-Järve and Sillamäe but suffered a crushing defeat in the border city of Narva, with Katri Raik’s Election Coalition taking 15 of the 31 mandates, leaving Center, that has traditionally ruled in Narva, with just 10.

Center also failed in Tartu where its mayoral candidate Jaan Toots could only muster 466 votes. As its regional leader, Toots has run the current coalition party into the ground in the university city, with Center taking just four seats on the Tartu council.

Second place nationwide, with the aggregate result of election coalitions excluded, went to the Reform Party that took 17.3 percent of all votes. The party predictably put in a strong result in the so-called golden ring municipalities surrounding Tallinn (Harku, Rae, Jõelähtme and Viimsi) and its traditional stronghold Tartu. Reform also won Tõrva and Kanepi municipalities. Reform lost the most ground in Rakvere, managing to secure just one mandate in place of the previous seven.

The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) managed to double its previous local elections’ vote yield from 39,003 in 2017 to 77,321 in 2021. Still, as EKRE currently tops nationwide party popularity polls, the result might be less than what its leaders hoped for. The national conservatives won Pärnu, fast becoming known as Estonia’s Texas, as well as Järva, Räpina and Põlva municipalities.

Eesti 200 vote yield

Isamaa took 48,886 total votes, up from 46,394 last time, winning Jõgeva, Muhu, Kohila, Viljandi and Elva municipalities. The party also took the city of Rakvere where it quickly formed a coalition with the Center Party.

The Estonian Greens managed to boost its result from 4,669 votes in 2017 to 6,310 this time.

Newcomers Eesti 200 made a grand entrance, taking 6 percent of all votes (35,333). While the party did not manage to win a single city of municipality, it now has far more political capital than previously.

The remaining parties and election coalitions lost votes compared to 2017, with the Social Democratic Party losing half the votes it got at previous local elections, going from 60,299 votes in 2017 to just 29,102 in 2021.

Major surprises

Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) took 3,586 votes despite being unable to serve on the city council as a member of the government. Stellar results were put in by Tallinn city district elders Vladimir Svet and Lauri Laats, with the latter boosting his result from 1,044 votes in 2017 to 8,466 recently. Eesti 200 leader Kristina Kallas managed 3,000 votes in Tartu and Marek Reinaas (also Eesti 200) took 1,939 votes in the capital. Former PM, Center Party leader Jüri Ratas took 3,035 votes, down from 8,017 when he last ran in 2013.

No grand coalition looming in Tallinn

While the Center Party lost its absolute majority in Tallinn, taking 38 mandates in the 79-mandate city council, a grand coalition of the five remaining parties against it will very probably not manifest. Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) urged the Reform Party, Conservative People's Party (EKRE), Isamaa, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) to form such a coalition after the elections, while it quickly became clear most parties are not keen and will be looking to join Center in a coalition instead. The grand coalition was first sunk by the Social Democrats who said that ganging up on the election winner is something they will not participate in. Eesti 200 made it more improbable still when they ruled out working with EKRE in the capital. Only Isamaa member Urmas Reinsalu said that the five-way coalition could happen under Reform Party mayoral candidate Kristen Michal. The Reform Party, that rules with Center on Toompea Hill, took 15 seats, followed by eight for EKRE, seven for Eesti 200, six for SDE and five seats for Isamaa.

Süku coalition incoming in Tartu

The Reform Party, that has ruled in Estonia's second largest city Tartu for the last 24 years, also won the recent local elections, taking 19 seats on the city council. Reform has proposed a coalition to the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Isamaa as neither party proposes the Süku or city center cultural center project. Newcomers Eesti 200 and EKRE both got eight council seats and could theoretically help Reform form a coalition but have previously criticized plans for Süku. The Center Party put in a conspicuously weak showing in the university city, managing to secure just four mandates, and will not be continuing as Reform’s partner.

Katri Raik's Election Coalition took 43.9 percent of the vote in the border city of Narva that secured it 15 seats on the 31-seat council. The Center Party, that has traditionally ruled the city, took 31.5 percent and just 10 mandates after winning the 2017 election with 74.2 percent of votes and 23 seats. Katri Raik took a record-breaking 4,512 votes or nearly half of her election coalition's vote yield. While Narva coalitions tend to be famously fickle, Raik now has the chance to send Center to the opposition by forming a coalition with Eesti 200 or former Mayor Aleksei Jevgrafov’s election coalition. Raik told Postimees on Monday evening that coalition negotiations are ongoing and that she is aiming for a majority of more than 16 seats.