02/03/2003 - D-7
Just a few days before the general elections on 2nd March no political group seems to be able to win a sufficient number of votes for it to govern alone. According to the latest opinion poll by Emor the two parties that comprise the present government coalition, the Centre Party (EK) and the Reform Party (ER), would take the lead in the election. The Centre Party is credited with 31% of the vote whilst Siim Kallas, the present Prime Minister's Reform Party would win 20% of the vote. If the Centre Party maintains its lead it will win thirty five of the 101 seats in the Riigikogu (the mono-cameral parliament in Estonia), i.e. seven more than during the last general elections on 7th March 1999.
The two movements who are allies in government but political opposites have been fighting it out during the entire electoral campaign. The Centrists say they are in favour of a new income tax, that is more progressive and that will enable a redistribution in favour of the poorest citizens. For their part the Reform Party, that lies on the right of the political chess board, say they are opposed to any tax reform, suggesting the lowering of the present income tax by 26%. According to the opinion polls, apart from these two movements, only two other parties have managed to transcend the 5% threshold in terms of intention to vote. These are the Assembly for the Republic-Res Publica, a party emanating from a rightwing think-tank led by the political analyst Rein Taagepera, that would win 14% of the vote and the Union for the Mother Country (I), a Christian Democrat movement that would win 6% of the vote. Around 13% of the electorate say they have not yet decided how to vote.
Since the programmes of all the political groups in Estonia converge on a great majority of subjects (economy, foreign policy, membership of the EU and NATO), the electoral campaign has focussed mainly on the political leaders' different characters. The Union for the Mother Country recently distinguished itself by suggesting to the President of the Republic and the other movements to grant mothers as many additional votes during the election as they have children under 16 years of age. This measure would be to fight against the ageing population and the country's low birth rate that is also a theme in the electoral campaign.
Another incident that occurred during the campaign was the resignation of the Home Secretary, Ain Seppik, a member of the Centre Party, after the press revealed his participation in 1985 under the Soviet regime, in a sham trial that resulted in five Estonians aged between 15 to 18 years being sent to prison for "hooliganism". The five young people had been accused of painting anti-Soviet graffiti such as "Long live the Estonian Republic" and for having vandalised a monument to the dead. Ain Seppik, who denies the accusations brought against him, is the first politician of this rank to be caught out by his past.