Estonia Government and Politics

State and politics

According to, Estonia, which was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, is a parliamentary democracy whose president is elected by parliament. The country has been a member of the EU and NATO since 2004, and is judged to have a well-functioning state without significant problems with corruption.

Estonia Country Flag

Reference: Estonia Flag Meaning


Estonia’s constitution was adopted after a referendum in June 1992. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of EE and its meanings of Estonia. The constitution, which is partly based on the old one from the previous independence period 1918-40, states that Estonia is a republic with president and parliament, Riigikogu, as supreme power. Riigikogu has 101 members, elected for four years. There is a 5 percent barrier against small parties.

The President is appointed by Parliament for a five-year term and may be re-elected. The president, who is the head of state and supreme commander of the defense forces, proposes a head of government (prime minister) who in turn must be approved by Parliament. The parliamentary elections are conducted according to a proportional method, which has meant that a multi-party system has emerged and that governments are usually coalitions.

The right to vote in national elections is for all citizens over the age of 18, and since 2015 in local elections from 16 years. Non-citizens may vote in local elections. There is still criticism that such a large proportion (about 90,000) of the more than 320,000 Russian speakers in Estonia are stateless. However, since 1992 Estonia has gradually softened its position in terms of citizenship. Since 2016, children are granted stateless automatic citizenship.

Political parties

Estonian politics is characterized by electoral cooperation and since independence, electoral sympathies have changed recurrently while parties have been wounded and others have emerged. Although the parties have different profile issues, there is no clear right and left scale between them, and almost all governments have promoted market economy and membership in the EU and NATO.

The Liberal Estonian Reform Party (Eesti Reformierakond) and the conservative Confederation of the Federation (Isamaalit/Pro Patria) have been driving market reforms and accession to the EU since the 1990s. The party was led from 1994 to 2004 by Siim Kallas, who subsequently became a member of the European Commission.

Estonian Center Party (Eesti Keskerakond), founded in 1991 by the leader of the Estonian People’s Front Edgar Savisaar (born 1950), has positioned itself as a defender of low-income earners, pensioners and the Russian-speaking minority.

The Confederation of the Federation and the Young Party Res Publica formed the Confederation of the Confederation of Finland and Res Publica (Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit, IRL) in 2006, also called Isamaa; the party stands for a conservative and nationalist policy.

The Social Democratic Party (Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond, formerly the Moderates) arose through a merger of various small groups, and in 2012 the small Russian party in the Social Democrats.

Estonia’s Conservative People’s Party (Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond) was formed in 2012 in a merger of the Estonian People’s Union and Estonia’s national movement. The party, which is often abbreviated Ekre in media reporting, is against immigration and is critical of the EU.


In 1988, the Supreme Soviet of Estonia adopted a declaration of sovereignty, which claimed that domestic legislation would apply to central, Soviet, in cases where they were against each other. In October of that year, Estonia’s national front was formed under the leadership of Edgar Savisaar. It initially demanded freedom in the Soviet Union and later freedom from the Soviet Union. In 1989, the Communist Party lost its monopoly position and new parties emerged. In the elections held for Estonia’s Supreme Soviet in 1990, the candidates of the People’s Front won big and Estonia became an independent state the following year. In the first completely free presidential and parliamentary elections in 1992, no presidential candidate received more than half the votes. The suffrage then passed to Parliament, which appointed Lennart Meri as president.

During the 1990s, Estonia was ruled by the Liberal Conservative parties, and Prime Minister of the first government was Christian Democrat Mart Laar. For two years, the government initiated vigorous political and economic reforms, which, despite some political struggles, were followed by subsequent governments. After an interplay with governments led by Tiit Vähi and Mart Siimann (born 1946) of the Samlingspartiet, an electoral association between city liberals and rural conservatives, Laar returned as prime minister after winning the 1999 election.

In the 2003 election, a newly formed Liberal Conservative Party, Res Publica, received almost 25 percent of the vote and could then form a government in coalition with the Liberal Reform Party, among others. Res Publica was replaced by the Center Party in the government in 2005 after one of the party’s ministers was subjected to a distrust vote.

In the 2007 elections, the Reform Party became the largest party and formed government together with the Res Publica/Fosterlands (now in the IRL election union) and the Social Democrats. Andrus Ansip was appointed Prime Minister of the Reform Party. The financial and economic crisis and the measures that led to this resulted in the Social Democrats resigning from the government in the spring of 2009 and a minority coalition continued to govern the country.

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, the government coalition gained its own majority after both the Reform Party and the IRL progressed. The reform party’s success was partly explained by how the government, with strict budgetary discipline, managed to turn the recession of the economic crisis into growth in a short time.

Andrus Ansip resigned in March 2014 and was elected Taavi Rõivas (born 1979) as a new Prime Minister, who formed a new government with the Social Democrats. The Reform Party succeeded in retaining its position as the largest party in the elections in 2015. In autumn 2016, its dominance ceased when the Center Party, the Social Democrats and the Conservative Right Alliance formed a coalition government. Since 2019, the Center Party has ruled together with the right alliance Isamaa and the right-wing populist Ekre. Prime Minister since 2016 is Center Party’s Jüri Ratas.

Estonian democratic institutions are robust, with protection from political opposition, free media and freedom of expression and press. Similarly, religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution and there are no restrictions on civil society. According to the Constitution, women and men have the same rights, but women are under-represented in leading positions in business and politics. In 2018, 29 percent of the members of parliament were women.

The former Soviet ban on homosexuality was repealed in 1992, and since 2016, the law recognizes same-sex partnerships.

Results in parliamentary elections

Voting and distribution of seats in the parliamentary elections since 1999

1999 2003 2007 2011 2015 2019
The Center Party 23.4/28 25.4/28 26.1/29 23.3/26 24.8/27 23.1/26
The Confederation of Federations 1 16.1/18 7.3/7
The reform Party 15.9/18 17.7/19 27.8/31 28.6/33 27.7/30 28.9/34
Social Democratic Party 2 15.2/17 7.0/6 10.6/10 17.1/19 15.2/15 9.8/10
coalition Party 7.6/7
people’s Association 7.3/7 13.0/13 7.1/6 2.1/0
United People’s Party 6.1/6 2.2/0
Res Publica 1 24.6/28
The motherland 1 17.9/19 20.5/23 13.7/14 11.4/12
The green ones 7.1/6 3.8/0 0.9/0 1.8/0
Free Party 8.7/8
Conservative People’s Party 8.1/7 17.8/19

1 The Confederation of the Fosterlands and Res Publica merged in 2006 and in the three following elections stood for the name of the Confederation of Fosterland and Res Publica. Since 2018, the party is called Fosterlandet.
2 In the previous elections, the Social Democrats were called the Moderates (1999) and the Moderate People’s Party (2003).


After Estonia’s founding as an independent state, the country received a uniform legal system of a western type. By annexing and converting to the Soviet Republic in 1940, the country received the same type of legal order as the other Soviet Union had under Stalin. The legislation followed a Soviet pattern, and in all essential respects the legislative independence of the Soviet Republic was a chimera. The courts were structurally independent and subordinate to the ruling Communist Party.

The Security Police was an instrument for the rulers of Moscow and was used as a terrorist instrument under Stalin. The situation did not change after Stalin’s death in 1953, but the legislation was integrated with Soviet Union legislation. Prosecutors and security police continued to act within the framework set by directives of the Estonian and Soviet Communist Party. Judge appointments were controlled by the Communist Party.

Only through the new independence in 1991 did Estonia get the opportunity to establish itself as the rule of law. The new constitution of 1992 has given the rule of law a foundation. The Constitution follows common patterns and is intended to provide individuals with legal protection. Accession to the Council of Europe also provides a foothold for the rule of law. In order to create free and independent courts, the judicial system has been reformed. Many of the communist judgments have been replaced. A new Supreme Court has been established in Tartu; a department acts as a constitutional court. Administrative courts have been established.

The legislation has been renewed to meet the requirements of the market economy. The task of the Chancellor of Justice is to supervise legislation and administration. The death penalty was abolished in 1998; the last execution took place in 1991.

Heads of State


1992-2001 Lennart Meri
2001-06 Arnold Rüütel
2006-16 Toomas Hendrik Ilves
2016- Kersti Kaljulaid

Estonia Head of Government

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