Estonia has an interested way of electing its candidates in parliamentary elections. Parties recruit well-known names to run on the party list, poster their faces all over town, and pray to Taara for help that people who like Erki Nool will vote for Isamaaliit - the reality being that Erki will probably never see the inside of the Riigikogu to discuss such things as bilateral trade policies with Moldova. Instead, somebody else from the party that is known to be reliable and/or easily persuaded will take his place in government. I am not sure if it is done this way in other parliamentary democracies -- I have never, for example, heard of David Beckham campaigning for Labour in the UK. It will be interesting to see who manages to "run" this year.
Today the news is that Maimu Berg, a former member of Eestimaa Rahvaliit, will campaign as a Social Democrat in the March elections. Her defection to the Social Dems could be seen with in the meme of Rahvaliit's decline following its failure to reelect Rüütel in the electoral college in September, along with the resignation of party leader Villu Reiljan from his position as Minister of the Environment the following month.
Current opinion polls show the leading parties to still be Keskerakond and the Reform Party - with Reform having a slight lead. The Isamaa-Res Publica Union, despite naming Mart Laar as a common prime ministerial candidate, is the third most popular party in Estonia, with support hovering around 13 percent. The Social Democrats and ERL can count on support from around six percent of the electorate each.
While polls show a continuation of the political status quo, it's worth mentioning that this year's elections will feature two new players - the rightwing union (Isamaa and Res Publica) and possible a new party, the Rohelised (Greens), who are busy collecting signatures to run in the '07 elections.
In the case of Isamaa-Res Publica (who really need to get one name), it shows that the bickerng right-wing parties managed to at least conclude the formation of their union. Still, Laar showed himself to be a talented businessman by essentially co-opting a larger party and turning it into his own. I've seen this done numerous times in business where small, unprofitable companies swallow larger ones and become suddenly successful and profitable, but I am unfamiliar with it being done in the political world with such finesse.
In regards to the newcomer Rohelised, while the Greens lack an obvious "Big Interest" base (international business tends to favor Reform and its partners, the Center Party can similarly count on some strong support from the business community), they do have the opportunity to put a fresh spin on Estonian politics, similar to the wave Res Publica created back in 2003. But this is a new kind of party in Estonia. While it won't be openly left-wing , it obviously has connections to European movements that caucus with the left, like Heidi Hautala's Greens in Finland, or Germany's very successful Die Grünen. The Green movement in general came out of the left in the 1960s and 70s.
In Estonia, being called "left-wing" is the equivalent of political death. Even the Social Democrats are "center-right" in philosophy. But, if successful in running an election, the Greens will bring an air of European parliamentary normalcy to a political system that is dominated by the nationalist right, the euroliberal right, and the center right. Plus it will nice to see a little leafy green symbol next to Kesk's giant K and the Social Dems' red rose.
It's too early in the game to speculate on how any party will perform. But it is obvious that there is life in Estonian democracy, and that the current stagnant polls may shift in coming months as new parties and platforms are made public.