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Ruling Party Looking to Secure Win in Estonian Parliamentary Elections

People cast their votes at a polling station during Estonia's general elections in Abja, March 6, 2011
People cast their votes at a polling station during Estonia's general elections in Abja, March 6, 2011

Estonians are voting in the Baltic state's first parliamentary elections since entering the euro zone in January. Opinion polls show that the ruling party is set to win, but a large number of undecided voters may still rock the results.

In January this year, Estonia adopted the euro. It was the first of the Baltic countries to do so, and it was a landmark achievement for the government of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip.

His center-right coalition is seeking re-election on the back of this triumph. If it succeeds, it will be the first administration to serve two consecutive terms since independence in 1991.

Recent opinion polls predict Ansip’s center-right Reform Party and its coalition partner, the conservative Pro Patria Res Publica Union, should gain a comfortable 54 percent of the vote. But victory is far from certain. A poll cited by the Estonian Public Broadcasting organization found 44 percent of voters were undecided on the eve of the vote.

Estonian Public Broadcasting Editor Steve Roman told VOA he believes the undecided voters are former supporters of the Reform Party, but he said the ruling party will still find popular support.

"My feeling is that the reform party will still come out ahead, but the big question is whether the combined total of the Reform Party votes and their coalition party, IRL, would reach 50 percent, which means that they would be able to keep their coalition and continue to keep their government into the next term."

With just 1.3-million people, Estonia is one of Europe's smallest countries, but it was one of the worst hit by the global economic crisis. In the two years after the 2008 financial crunch the economy contracted by 20 percent.

Ansip's government responded with a package of drastic austerity measures that appears to have paid off. The tiny country is now the second-fastest-growing economy in Europe and a sense the country is on the road to recovery is driving support for the current government.

But Estonia is still facing problems - unemployment is at 14 percent, one of the highest rates in the European Union. Further recovery and reducing unemployment levels will remain on the agenda for whoever wins the election.

But a victory for Ansip and his conservative allies would parallel the trend of political stability across the Baltics. Last October, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was re-elected, and in Lithuania the ruling party won a victory last week in municipal elections.

This draws a stark contrast between the Baltic states and other European countries like Ireland, where voters have punished their government for harsh austerity measures by voting for the opposition in last month's parliamentary elections.