Politics of Estonia

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Politics in 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 Estonian 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. Estonia is a member of United Nations, European Union and NATO, among others.

Political history of Estonia

Main article: History of Estonia

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 (lower house) and Riiginõukogu (upper 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. Estonia declared independence in 1991 causing the transition from a state socialist economy to the capitalist market economy.[1]

The contemporary Estonian government follows the principles of separation of powers 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 Bank of Estonia, 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.

Estonia does not have a state church; religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution.

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Kersti Kaljulaid Independent 10 October 2016
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas Estonian Centre Party 23 November 2016

Head of State

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.

Executive branch

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. 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. Only Estonian citizens may participate in parliamentary elections.

Internet voting was first used in the 2005 local elections and it has since then been used in electing Riigikogu and the European Parliament as well.

Political parties and elections

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Estonia. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in 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.

Party orientation (ideology) Centre Party Reform Party Res Publica Pro Patria Union People's Union Social Democratic Party Coalition Party
  Centre Party centre ('social liberal') * 2002–2003; 2005–2007 - - 2005–2007 - 1995
  Reform Party[2] centre-right (classical liberal) 2002–2003; 2005–2007 * 2003–2005 1992–95; 1999–2002; 2007– 2003– 1999–2002 1995–1997
  Res Publica[3] centre-right (conservative) - 2003–2005, 2007– * - 2003–2005 - -
  Pro Patria Union[4] centre-right (national conservative) - 1992–1995, 1999–2002, 2007– - * - 1992–1995, 1999–2002, 2007–2009 -
  People's Union centre-left (agrarian) 1995, 2005–2007 1995–1997, 2005–2007 - - * - 1995–1999
  Social Democratic Party[5] centre-left ('social democratic') - 1992–1994, 1999–2002, 2007–2009 - 1992–1994, 1999–2002, 2007–2009 - * -
  Coalition Party centre (centrist) 1995 1995–1997 - - 1995–1999 - *

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.

Civil service

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.[6]

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.).[6] There are 241 local government authorities employing about 4500 public servants.[6]

Administrative divisions

Main article: Counties of Estonia

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

International organization membership

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

  1. Holt-Jensen, Arild (2010). "Transition from state socialism to market economy: The case of Estonia". Norwegian Journal of Geography. 64 (3): 127–128. doi:10.1080/00291951.2010.502441. ISSN 0029-1951. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
  2. 1992–1994 its forerunner Liberal Democratic Party
  3. in 2006 merged with Pro Patria
  4. in 2006 merged with Res Publica
  5. from 1992 to 1999 Moderates (an election cartel), 1999 to 2004 People's Party Moderates
  6. 1 2 3 Public Administration in Estonia

Further reading

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