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Soaring inflation and weapon deliveries to Ukraine top Estonia voter concerns

Soaring inflation and weapon deliveries to Ukraine top Estonia voter concerns

Polling stations reopened this morning in Estonia as the country votes in its first general election since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
The center-right Reform Party of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine, is a favorite to win.

She faces a challenge from the far-right opposition Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, or EKRE, which is seeking to limit the Baltic nation’s exposure to the Ukraine crisis and is blaming the government for citizens’ economic misery.

Early voting has been open since Monday and by Saturday 47% of the country’s one million eligible voters had already cast their ballots to pick representatives to the 101-seat parliament or riigikogu. Many Estonians prefer to vote electronically, casting votes from their computers.

National security in the wake of neighboring Russia’s assault on Ukraine and social-economic issues, particularly the rising cost of living, have been the main themes of the election.

Kallas, 45, has emerged in the past year of war as one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine. In office since 2021, she’s seeking a second term, with her standing enhanced by her international appeals to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Five parties are currently represented in parliament. Kallas’ Reform Party heads the current three-party coalition government with the small conservative Fatherland party and the Social Democrats.

A Baltic nation of 1.3 million people that borders Russia to the east, Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has taken a clear Western course, joining NATO and the European Union.

Most major parties agree with the current government’s policies of tightening Russian sanctions and strengthening NATO’s military presence in the region. Tallinn is also providing Ukraine with more weapons than any other country relative to its economic might.

Only the nationalist EKRE has expressed concerns about accepting more Ukrainian refugees and sending weapons to Kyiv, arguing that it is undermining national defense.

EKRE is campaigning on a promise of reforms, as the country faces an inflation rate of 18.6%, one of the highest in Europe, and saw an economic contraction last year of 1.3%

The outspoken and polarizing EKRE entered into the mainstream of Estonian politics in the 2019 election when it emerged as the third-largest party with nearly 18% of votes.

The euroskeptic party, which has ridden the wave of political populism in Europe, was co-founded by Martin Helme’s father, Mart Helme.

EKRE and the father-son duo have been embroiled in various political scandals in the past years due to their controversial public comments, particularly during 2019-21 when the party was part of a Center Party-led government.

EKRE lost ground in the current polls after allegations emerged of alleged links to Russia.

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