New majority in sight for Estonian coalition

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:25 PM

By David Mardiste

TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonians voted on Sunday with opinion polls showing the center-right coalition had a good chance of re-election in the new euro zone member which is pulling out of a deep recession.

An opinion poll on Thursday showed the Reform Party of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, and its partner Pro Patria and Res Republica Union, would win a combined 54 percent of the vote, which would give them a majority in the 101-seat parliament.

A poll on Tuesday ahead of the first election since euro zone entry in January was less clear cut. It showed Ansip would need to negotiate with a third party, possibly the center-left Social Democrats, to secure a majority.

The Reform Party campaigned under a slogan of "You can be sure" and touted its credentials as a good economic manager which took the small nation of 1.3 million people through a deep 2009 recession and back into recovery and euro zone entry.

Political analysts believe the Baltic state will stick to its policies of keeping a tight rein on finances, which allowed to become the 17th country to adopt the euro, with the lowest debt burden in the European Union.

"The key issue is how do we get out of the recession and back on to the road to success -- it is about the future," Siiri Aulik, 43, a civil servant working in Tallinn said before heading to the polling station.

Estonians, who had been able to vote via the Internet until March 2, began voting at polling stations at 9 a.m. and can cast their ballots until 8 p.m. (0700-1800 GMT).

The Center Party, the main opposition group, has been hit by allegations it asked for funding from Russia, Estonia's neighbor which is traditionally regarded with distrust. The party has denied the allegations.

The Social Democrats entered the government with Ansip after the last election in 2007, but that coalition split.

RECOVERY FROM OUTPUT SLUMP

Ansip's government was a minority one for awhile, but defections from smaller parties eventually gave it 51 seats.

Thursday's opinion poll, carried out by TNS Emor and reported in the media, gave Ansip's Reform Party 29 percent support and Pro Patria/Res Publica 25 percent.

Estonia suffered a drop of 14 percent in economic output during the 2009 recession, the third worst in the EU after fellow Baltic states Latvia and Lithuania.

The government had to cut spending to keep its budget deficit within euro-zone limits to adopt the currency.

Estonia remains one of the poorest countries in the EU, which it entered in 2004, the same year it joined NATO.

Its fiscal situation is sound -- the European Commission has forecast a total public sector budget deficit of 1.6 percent of output for 2011, in line with the euro area average.

State debt, forecast at 9.5 percent of output for this year, will be by far the lowest in the euro zone and well below the average 86.5 percent of gross domestic product. The government has pledged to get the budget back in balance by 2014.

(Editing by Matthew Jones and Michael Roddy)