Edgar Savisaar’s Centre Party won the October 18 municipal elections in Estonia. The results were massively decisive in Narva (76.6% of the vote) and Kohtla-Järve (89.2%) where Russian-speaking voters are overwhelmingly in the majority.
In Tallinn the winning margin was 53.5% of the vote for the Centre Party. Edgar Savisaar gained nearly 39,000 votes – an undeniable personal victory – in the voting district of Lasnamäe, with a large percentage of Russian speaking voters. The vote was clearly for Savisaar himself, rather than an endorsement of his government in Tallinn. The mayor – Savisaar – got 39,000 votes and a deputy mayor – Taavi Aas - got 80.
The results surprised no one. A pre-election poll of voters in Tallinn indicated that Savisaar would win 75% of the Russian vote. There were 200,000 more qualified voters in the local elections than in the last parliamentary or recent European Parliament elections. Of these, over 100,000 (non-citizens) participated in the municipal vote.
The percentage of the amalgamated vote throughout the country for the Centre Party was 31.5%, Reform Party (16.7%), Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (13.9%), Social Democrats (7.5%), others (3.1%).
Of fifteen cities, the Centre Party won 3, Reform 7, Pro Patria and Res Publica 2, Social Democrats 1, and two cities were won by local political coalitions.
Observers remark that the Centre Party has been able to practically monopolize the non-Estonian vote. (In Estonia, as opposed to Canada, non-citizens with established residency are allowed to vote in local elections. To qualify, the five-year residency waiting period was waived before these elections.) The Centrists have also taken advantage of the animosity created, both from within Estonia, and initiated in Moscow, toward people of Estonian heritage and the government after the relocation of the Soviet “Bronze Soldier” in April of 2007.
Many observers insist that the results are a forerunner of the parliamentary elections one and a half years hence. To accept this at face value would be a simplification of the situation.
The Centre Party’s election campaign was aggressive, derogatory towards the opposition and brimming with populist promises. The opposition failed to unify under a single candidate for mayor and coalesce with a joint campaign.
Typically the winning party gains public support once an election victory is achieved. But an Emor poll conducted shortly after the election indicated that the Reform Party established first place in popularity, passing the Centrist in standings. Reformists gained three percentage points, while the Centrists dropped four points. Pro Patria and Res Publica came in third picking up three points more than pre-election, while the Social Democrats lost two points. However polls are fickle and sensitive to many different attitudinal inputs.
One must also recall the advice to Russian voters in Estonia from various politicians in Russia: don’t bother voting for local Russian parties in Estonia. Concentrate your vote on Savisaar and the Centre Party, because supporting marginal, disparate Russian parties may render impotent your voting potential.
Developments in Estonia during the next year and a half make current predictions of the next parliamentary elections an unsure call.
Estonia’s municipal elections - are they a predictor of next parliamentary elections?