No. 39



Elections of the Riigikogu – Some Generalisations

05 June 2019


RiTo No. 39, 2019

  • Rein Toomla

    Rein Toomla

    Teacher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu

Since the first constitutional elections in 1992, the number of political parties in the Riigikogu has shown a relatively clear trend towards decrease – of nine political parties in 1992, five have remained in 2019.

According to the positions of Arend Lijphart (Lijphart 1984), such a decrease could indicate that some matters of disputes within society have disappeared or at least mitigated. Apparently, a quarter of century ago, economic issues were disputed more, while “post-materialist” problems cause more animated discussion in today’s society. During the most recent elections in 2019, the dispute over the foreign policy orientation sharpened somewhat unexpectedly.

In the Estonian electoral system there is a five per cent threshold, and the political parties who remain below the threshold remain out of the Riigikogu, and therefore the number of political parties in the Riigikogu appears a little deceptive. In the last elections, nine per cent of votes were lost because of that. If we had the principle of “natural threshold”, two, and on certain conditions even four other parties could have gained seats in the parliament at the 2019 Riigikogu elections.

In the case of the political parties who were represented in the Riigikogu in the period 1992–2019, we can speak of as many as three party systems. Based on the views of Alan Siaroff (Siaroff 2019), we can see that the political party configuration that was formed in the Riigikogu in the 1990s could be called extreme pluralism. This was replaced by moderate pluralism that dominated in the 2000s. The Riigikogu that began its work after the last elections in 2019 fits in the “two-and-a-half” party system.

Although the number of political parties in the Riigikogu has been decreasing more or less constantly, this has not brought about stable governments. During that time, there has been no government able to remain in power for the full four-year term. Mostly, the Prime Minister has been replaced together with the Government, but there have been cases when the Prime Minister has managed to survive a cabinet crisis without resigning. As Estonia has a proportional electoral system, in all probability, there will be several political parties in the Riigikogu also in the future, and Governments will not be making it until the end of their terms. However, forming a Government has not proved to be very complicated. This must be attributed to the fact that the political parties are close on the left-right scale. On the scale of one to ten generated according to Manifesto Project, the compositions of the Riigikogu have fitted under one category, and on only one occasion have the most extreme political parties been separated by 2.5 points. This has provided opportunities to form relatively diverse coalitions.