Estonia’s Reform Surprise Win

by Neele Jongen
Did Estonia elect its first ever female prime minister?

Did Estonia elect its first ever female prime minister? Neele Jongen with an analysis of the outcomes of the Estonian elections.

On 3 March, the centre-right wing Reform Party beat prime minister’s, Jüri Ratas, Centre Party in Estonia’s general elections. In a surprising end-leap, the Reform Party secured 28.8% of the votes and 34 seats out of the 101 seats available in the parliament against the Centre Party’s 23.1% and 26 seats.

Kaja Kallas is an early frontrunner for the prime minister post. She is the leader of the Reform Party and a former Member of European Parliament (MEP). She would become Estonia’s first female prime minister. However, a coalition needs to be formed to secure a parliamentary majority and this could lead to another prime minister.

In the past, both Ms. Kallas and Mr. Ratas expressed their willingness to negotiate cooperation in a governing coalition. Additionally, Kallas said prior to the election that the Reform Party is not prepared to include far-right nationalist Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) into coalition negotiations. The Eurosceptic party came third with 17.8% of the votes and will hold 19 seats in the parliament, 12 more than it did before to the election. EKRE’s leader, Mart Helme, responded EKRE will not rule out any party. On top of that, he claimed that EKRE could, together with the Social Democrats (10 seats) and Pro Patria (12 seats), exert pressure on the victorious Reform Party.  

The main hurdle during government negotiations could end up being the contrasting relationship envisaged regarding Estonia’s Eastern neighbour. Whereas the Centre Party is traditionally pro-Russian, the liberal Reform Party is pro-Western policy.

Whoever the next prime minister might be, one of their main tasks will be the reorganisation of the tax system. By tradition, both the Centre Party and the Reform Party were in favour of a conservative tax system. In recent years, however, prime minister Ratas has attempted to implement a more progressive tax system, which more closely follows the example of neighbouring countries such as Finland.

In the next few days, President Kersti Kaljulaid will nominate a prime minister candidate to start coalition negotiations.