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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Meteoric Rise: Res Publica in Estonia, 2001-2004


Formed in 2001, Res Publica won the Estonian parliamentary elections in 2003, and its leader became prime minister. It lost the elections for the European Parliament in 2004 and was down to 5 % in opinion polls. The founding chair of the party analyzes here the causes for Res Publica's rapid rise and fall, reviewing the sociopolitical background of its rise and drawing comparisons with other new parties. Res Publica was a genuinely new party that involved no previous major players and might be characterized as a "purifying bridge party" that filled an empty niche at center right. Its rise was among the fastest in Europe. For success of a new party three factors must be present to a sufficient degree, as expressed by the following multiplication: Prospect of success = Membership x Financial Support x Visibility. Res Publica had all three. Overly rapid success spoiled the party leadership. Their governing style became arrogant and they veered to the right, alienating their centrist core constituency. Reformists proved fickle opportunists. It no longer mattered for the quality of Estonian politics whether Res Publica vanished or survived.

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