EKRE’s Performance in Estonian Elections: The Defeat of Populism?

Similar Posts

This post is also available in: Türkçe Русский

In the 21st century, the wave of populism is more influential than communism in Europe. But populism is not a phenomenon unique to this century. On the contrary, the roots of the movement in Europe date back to the post-World War II period. Populism in the period covering the years 1960-1980; Unlike today, it has been associated with the left understanding. Populism, which dominates Europe in the current conjuncture, is generally related to the right, even to the far-right, although there are exceptions. While far-right populist parties take part in the government in countries such as Italy and Poland; It is also increasing its effects in countries such as Germany and France.

The rise of populism is one of the most controversial topics in political science. One of the most important areas around which the debates are focused is the election performances of populist parties. The latest development in this context is the Estonian General Elections held on March 5, 2023. Contrary to the opinion polls, the vote percentage of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), a far right-wing party, remained low. In this sense, the party could not perform as expected. The results of this election in Estonia; It is important to understand what conditions are effective in finding support for populist parties and to determine the general discourse and attitudes of the parties.

In the elections held on March 5, 2023 to elect 101 members of the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu), the Reform Party led by Kaja Kallas, which has been ruling the country since 2021 and called the centre-right, reached an overwhelming majority with 31.4% of the votes. The party, thus, increased the number of seats in the parliament to 37 compared to the elections in 2019. On the other hand, the populist far-right party EKRE, which is seen as its most serious rival, received only 16.1% of the votes and the number of seats decreased from 19 to 17. The Center Party, which has close relations with the Russian minorities in the country, received 15% of the vote; The number of seats also decreased to 16. The Center Party became the third party in the parliament, thereby.

The most striking situation that emerged in the election in question is the performance of the Estonian 200 Party, which won the right to be represented in the parliament for the first time. Estonia 200, which could not pass the 5% threshold in the elections in 2019, won 14 seats in the parliament in this election and succeeded in making itself one of the important candidates to be a part of the coalition to be established.[1] Another remarkable situation is that EKRE lags behind the predicted performance in the surveys, despite the creation of many conditions for the rise of populism.

Populist parties claim themselves the voice of silent and pure people whose demands cannot be met by corrupt elites, politicians and institutions of liberal democracy, and are in favor of establishing untrustful environment.[2] In this case, it is mostly effective that they receive support from voters who do not trust political institutions and elites.[3] EKRE claims that it is only true representative of the Estonian people and that the current Prime Minister is more interested in other countries (with Ukraine).[4]

When the Estonian election is considered in this context, EKRE aims to reduce the reliability of the votes coming through the online voting system adopted by Tallin. With respect to this, he claims that the Reform Party stole his votes and wants to take the matter to court.[5] Therefore, the party attributes the low rate of votes to theft of votes. In this context, the party, which has a populist discourse, aims to increase public support by reducing trust in political elites and democratic institutions.

In the rise of populism, the actors’ use of crises to their advantage by turning them into an advantage has an important impact. This method, rather than offering systematic solutions to crises; It is aimed at mobilizing the masses and creating distrust in society by making complaints and accusations. The rise of populist discourses in Estonia can also be considered in this context.

Tallin is the leading actor in Europe in aiding Kiev. At the same time, the fact that it contributes more than 1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as being one of the countries with the highest inflation rate (18.6) in the European Union is also included in the populist discourses of EKRE. The party has developed a campaign that includes stopping military aid to Ukraine, ending the reception of refugees from Ukraine, and thus protecting Estonian workers.[6]

On the other hand, in Estonia, which has ideological weakness, populists internalize an approach that emphasizes nativism. Nativists, on the other hand, advocate a homogeneous society against foreigners and minorities within the country.[7]

In addition to political elites and institutions, one of the most important actors that populists blame and hold responsible in times of crisis is foreigners in the country. Refugees, immigrants and non-Estonians can be included in this group. As seen in the example of EKRE, populists try to create a common enemy by holding foreigners and minorities within the country responsible for the bad economic landscape, high unemployment and cost of living, and claim that they are the only representatives to protect the people against this enemy.

Although there are many factors affecting the rise of populism in Estonia, the low performance of EKRE in the elections is a remarkable development. The most basic factor causing this situation is that reality precedes discourses.

Estonia borders Russia and was a part of the Soviet Union for a long time until the country gained its independence. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has evoked the Estonian people in the historical context and, with the effect of its geographical location, has brought the Russian threat to its peak. The figure of the enemy used by populism and the desire to unite against the enemy emerged spontaneously here. This time, the common enemy is Russia, and the Estonian people are observing the living example of the threat very closely. This fear leads the public to remain silent in the face of an economic burden that they would not accept under normal circumstances. Additionally, the source of high unemployment and cost of living is also attributed to the Russia-Ukraine War.

As a result, the Estonian people think that it is the right policy to increase aid and weaken the common enemy in Ukraine, which it currently occupies. Therefore, the people made their choice in favor of the Reform Party, which promises a better future by both securing itself in the elections and eliminating the economic problems in its country. Even though there is a suitable environment and valid reasons for populism to increase its impact, the biggest reason why EKRE is not supported can be determined as Estonia’s geographical location and historical memory.

[1] “Estonia Election Analysis: Why the Liberals Won, the Far-Right Lost, and Other Key Takeaways”, Euronews,, (Date of Accession: 08.03.2023).

[2] Margaret Canovan, “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy”, Political Studies, 1999, p. 6.

[3] Paul Taggart, “Populism and the Pathology of Representative Politics”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p. 69.

[4] “Estonian PM’s Party Handily Beats Far Right in National Election”, VOA News,, (Date of Accession: 08.03.2023).

[5] “Estonia Election Analysis…”, op.cit.

[6] “Estonia Goes to Polls with Parties Split on Ukraine aid”, My Republica,, (Date of Accession: 08.03.2023).

[7] Cas Mudde, “Populist Radical Right Parties”, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 18-22.