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Estonia Election Results Seen as Uncertain - 2003-03-02

Opinion polls in Estonia indicate no party will win a majority in the nation's fourth general election since it regained independence from the former Soviet Union. The polls reflect the struggle between those prospering in the new Estonia and those who are being left behind.

Estonians are choosing from more than 900 candidates for the 101-member single-house parliament.

Although Estonia's economy is on the upswing and its foreign policy goals are seemingly on course - with recent invitations to join NATO and the European Union by next year - analysts say the election outcome is far from certain.

The Center Party of former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar has campaigned as the voice of those struggling to make ends meet in a free-market economy. His message has propelled his party to the top of the polls.

But the fiscally-conservative Reform Party, led by Prime Minister Siim Kallas, is running a close second.

The emergence of a new political party, Res Publica, which scored spectacular gains during local elections last October has added to the uncertainty.

Estonia currently has a coalition government made up of Mr. Savisaar's Center Party and the Reform Party. They have shared power in a strictly caretaker role since last year.

But the two parties have turned on each other during a particularly bitter campaign. They have fallen out over taxes.

The Center Party favors the introduction of a progressive income tax, while the pro-business Reform Party wants to lower the 26 percent flat tax regime even further.

For the first time, apparently believing Estonia has proved its ability to hold independent and democratic elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided not to send observers to monitor the poll.