Politics of Estonia

Politics of Estonia takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Estonia is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Legislative power is vested in the and parliament. Executive power is exercised by the Government which is led by the Prime Minister. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Estonian civil service is relatively young. Over 50% of civil servants aged under 40 and a third aged under 30. 42 % of civil servants are male and 58% female. Around half of civil servants have a tertiary degree. [http://www.riigikantselei.ee/failid/Public_administration_in_Estonia.pdf Public Administration in Estonia] ]

Estonia has a relatively low number of bureaucrats, 18,998 in the central government and 4500 in local governments. Central government institutions include: 11 Ministries (2,593 employees), 33 Administrative agencies, Boards and Inspectorates (14,790 employees), 6 Constitutional Institutions (805 employees), 15 County Governments (810 employees), and other institutions (National Archives, Prosecutor's Office etc.). There are 241 local government authorities employing about 4500 public servants.


The Estonian Declaration of Independence was issued in 1918. A parliamentary republic was formed by the Estonian Constituent Assembly and the first Constitution of Estonia was adopted on June 15 1920. The parliament Riigikogu (State Assembly) elected a Riigivanem who acted both as Head of Government and Head of State. During the Era of Silence political parties were banned and the parliament was not in session between 1934 and 1938 as the country was ruled by decree by Konstantin Päts, who was elected as the first President of Estonia in 1938. In 1938 a new constitution was passed and Riigikogu was convened once again, this time bicamerally, consisting of Riigivolikogu (upper house) and Riiginõukogu (lower house), both meaning State Council in direct translation. In 1940 Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. A year later, the Soviet occupation was taken over by a Nazi German one. During the course of the two occupations legal institutions, elected according to the constitution approved by the people, were removed from power. In September 1944, after German forces left, legal power was briefly restored as Otto Tief formed a new government in accordance with the 1938 constitution. The Tief government, though, lasted for only 5 days, as Estonia was again occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1991 the Republic of Estonia was restored on the basis of continuity with the constitution prior to 1938, with the public approving a new constitution in 1992.

The contemporary Estonian government follows the principles of separation of power and its people elect a 101-member Riigikogu every four years. Only Estonian citizens may participate in parliamentary elections. Estonia uses a voting system based on proportional representation. A party must exceed a national threshold of 5% of all votes to gain entry to the parliament. The Parliament elects a president, who can be in office for a five year period for a maximum of two terms in succession. As a rule, the president asks the party leader who has collected the most votes to form the new government, who then must gain the approval of Riigikogu. The parliament also appoints the president of the Estonian National Bank, the Chief of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense, the Comptroller General of Estonia, the Chancellor of Justice of Estonia and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Estonia, all on the proposal of the President of Estonia.

In the years shortly following the restoration of independence, there were dozens of parties to represent a population of only 1.3 million; at present 6 main parties are in the parliament. The local authorities have developed in much the same direction. All permanent residents of voting age (18) may participate in local elections. Estonia does not have a state church, religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution.

Political developments since regaining independence

On June 28, 1992, Estonian voters approved the constitutional assembly's draft constitution and implementation act, which established a parliamentary government with a president as chief of state and with a government headed by a prime minister.

The Riigikogu, a unicameral legislative body, is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the prime minister. The prime minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held on September 20, 1992. Approximately 68% of the country's 637,000 registered voters cast ballots. Lennart Meri, an outstanding writer and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, won this election and became president. He chose 32-year-old historian and Christian Democratic Party founder Mart Laar as prime minister.

In February 1992, and with amendments in January 1995, the Riigikogu renewed Estonia's 1938 citizenship law, which also provides equal civil protection to resident aliens.

In 1996, Estonia ratified a border agreement with Latvia and completed work with Russia on a technical border agreement. President Meri was re-elected in free and fair indirect elections in August and September in 1996. During parliamentary elections in 1999, the seats in Riigikogu were divided as follows: the Centre Party received 28, the Pro Patria Union 18, the Reform Party 18, the People's Party Moderates (election cartel between Moderates and People's Party) 17, Coalition Party 7, Country People's Party (now People's Union) 7, United People's Party's electoral cartel 6 seats. Pro Patria Union, the Reform Party, and the Moderates formed a government with Mart Laar as prime minister whereas the Centre Party with the Coalition Party, People's Union, United People's Party, and Members of Parliament who were not members of factions formed the opposition in the Riigikogu.

The Moderates joined with the People's Party on 27 November 1999, forming the People's Party Moderates.

In fall 2001 Arnold Rüütel became the President of the Republic of Estonia. In January 2002 Prime Minister Laar stepped down and President Rüütel appointed Siim Kallas the new prime minister. On January 28, 2002 the new government was formed from a coalition with The Reform Party and the Centre Party.

Following parliamentary elections in 2003, the seats were allocated as follows: Centre 28, Res Publica 28, the Reform Party 19, the People's Union 13, the Pro Patria Union 7 and the Moderates 6 seats. The United People's Party failed to meet the 5% threshold. Res Publica, the Reform Party and the Peoples Union formed the government. From this coalition President Rüütel chose the leader of the Res Publica party, Juhan Parts, to form a government.

On 14 September 2003, following negotiations that began in 1998, the citizens of Estonia were asked in a referendum whether or not they wished to join the European Union. With 64% of the electorate turning out the referendum passed with a 66.83% margin in favor, 33.17% against. Accession to the EU took place on 1 May of the following year.

In February 2004 the People's Party Moderates renamed themselves as Social Democratic Party of Estonia.

On the 8 May, 2004, a defection of several Centre Party members to form a new party, the Social Liberal Party, over a row concerning the Centrists' "no" stance to joining the European Union changed the allocation of the seats in Riigikogu. Social-liberals had 8 seats, but a hope to form a new party disappeared by the 10 May 2005, because most members in the social-liberal group joined other parties.

On 24 March Prime Minister Juhan Parts announced his resignation following a vote of no confidence in the Riigikogu against Minister of Justice Ken-Marti Vaher, which was held on the 21 March. Result: 54 pro (Social Democrats, Social Liberals, People's Union, Pro Patria Union and Reform Party) without no against or neutral MPs. 32 MPs (Res Publica and Centre Party) did not take part.

On 4 April 2005, President Rüütel nominated Reform party leader Andrus Ansip as Prime Minister designate by and asked him to form a new government, the 8th in 12 years. Ansip formed a government out of a coalition of his Reform Party with the People’s Union and the Centre Party. Approval by the Riigikogu, which by law must decide within 14 days of his nomination, came on 12 April 2005. Ansip was backed by 53 out of 101 members of the Estonian parliament. Forty deputies voted against his candidature.

The general consensus in the Estonian media seems to be that the new cabinet, on the level of competence, is not necessarily an improvement over the old one. The new government is colloquially called the "Garlic Coalition", because the agreement between the party leaders was reached at the Tallinn restaurant [http://www.restaurant.ee/Balthasar/index.php?lang=eng&rid=1 "Balthasar"] , which specialises in garlic dishes.

On 18 May, 2005, Estonia signed a border treaty with the Russian Federation in Moscow. The treaty was ratified by the Riigikogu on 20 June, 2005. However, in the end of June the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that it did not intend to become a party to the border treaty and did not consider itself bound by the circumstances concerning the object and the purposes of the treaty due to the fact that Riigikogu had attached a preambula to the ratification act that referenced earlier documents that mentioned the Soviet occupation and the uninterrupted legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia during the Soviet period. The issue remains unsolved and is in focus of European level discussions.

Internet voting has already been used in local elections in Estonia, and the lawmakers in Estonia have authorized internet voting for parliamentary elections as well. [http://news.com.com/Estonia+pulls+off+nationwide+Net+voting/2100-1028_3-5898115.html (see COM)] .

On 4 April, 2006, Fatherland Union and Res Publica decided to form a united right-conservative party. The two parties joining was approved on 4 June by both parties in Pärnu. The joined party name is Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica).

Executive branch

Toomas Hendrik Ilves
October 9 2006
Prime Minister
Andrus Ansip
April 5 2007
Coalition partners|

The President of Estonia is elected by Parliament ("Riigikogu") for a five-year term; if he or she does not secure two-thirds of the votes after three rounds of balloting, then an electoral assembly (made up of Parliament plus members of local governments) elects the president, choosing between the two candidates with the largest percentage of votes.The Prime Minister of Estonia ("Estonian: Eesti Vabariigi Peaminister") is the head of government of the Republic of Estonia. The prime minister is chosen by the President and conferred by Parliament. This is usually the leader of the largest party or coalition in the Parliament. The activity of the government is directed by the Prime Minister, who is the de facto political head of state. He does not head any specific ministry, but is, in accordance with the constitution, the supervisor of the work of the government. The Prime Minister’s significance and role in the government and his relations with other ministries often depend on the position of the party led by the prime minister in vis-à-vis the coalition partners, and on how much influence the prime minister possesses within his own party. If the prime minister has a strong position within his party, and the government is made up solely of representatives of that party, he can enjoy considerable authority. In all crucial national questions, however, the final word rests with Riigikogu as the legislative power.

Legislative branch

The State Council ("Riigikogu") has 101 members, elected for a four year term by proportional representation.

Political parties and elections

Judicial branch

The supreme judiciary court is the National Court or "Riigikohus", with 19 justices whose chairman is appointed by the parliament for life on nomination by the president.

Administrative divisions

Estonia numbers 15 main administrative subdivisions. Due to the geographical and demographic size of these subdivisions, they are to be considered counties rather than states (Estonian: pl. "maakonnad"; sg. - "maakond").

International organization participation

Estonia is member of the BIS, CBSS, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EU, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM (observer), ISO (correspondent), ITU, ITUC, NATO, OPCW, OSCE, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNTSO, UPU, WCO, WEU (associate partner), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

References and notes


[http://www.estonica.org/eng/lugu.html?menyy_id=411&kateg=73&alam=75&leht=2 Estonica : Estonia in brief : Political system:]

External links

* [http://www.ku.edu/~herron/ Erik Herron's Guide to Politics of East Central Europe and Eurasia]

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