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Estonians vote with parties split over Ukraine military aid

Estonians are voting for a new parliament in an election that could strengthen far-right nationalists, who have campaigned against further arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’s centre-right Reform Party is predicted by the opinion polls to win Sunday’s election, but will likely have to form a coalition to hang on to power. 

The party is expected to garner 24 percent to 30 percent of votes, according to final polls during 

Kallas’s main challenger is Martin Helme, head of the nationalist far-right EKRE party, which faults Kallas for the country’s inflation rate of 18.6 percnet – one of the EU’s highest – and accuses her of undermining Estonia’s defences by giving weapons to Ukraine.

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 percent of votes.

The far-right EKRE was predicted to take second place with 14-25 percent.

The Centre Party was on 16-19 percent and Estonia 200 between nine and 15 percent.

“Those who don’t vote for EKRE will not be rid of the Reform (party)”, EKRE leader Martin Helme wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Former prime minister and Reform Party member Siim Kallas warned of a splintered vote.

“The more the result is muddled and split, the more the government will be muddled, the more the ruling coalition will be weak,” he posted on Facebook.

Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people bordering Russia, has a unicameral parliament with 101 seats, all of them at stake in the election.

The Baltic state, a member of the EU and NATO, has led international calls over the past year for more military aid to help Ukraine fight off Russian forces.

Estonia’s military assistance to Ukraine amounts to more than one percent of GDP – the biggest contribution of any country relative to the size of its economy.

NATO allies to send ‘heavier weapons’ to Ukraine – Stoltenberg

Abstention uncertainty 

The Centre Party, which is traditionally popular with Estonia’s large Russian-speaking minority, has supported government policy on Ukraine and on Russia.

This has put off some Russian-speaking voters, and rates of abstention among the minority, around a quarter of the population, could be high.

Reform is a centre-right liberal party that appeals to business owners and young professionals.

It has promised to raise military spending to at least three percent of GDP, ease taxes on business and wants to pass a law approving same-sex civil partnerships.

The Centre Party is centre-left, and is promising more investment in infrastructure and affordable housing.

According to political analysts, a coalition between Reform, Estonia 200 and the Social Democrats is possible, as is one between Reform, Centre and Isamaa.

However, EKRE’s chances of fronting a coalition are projected as modest.

The polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT), with first results expected early Monday.

More than 47 percent of voters had already cast their ballot by post or online, according to the electoral commission.

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