After Cuts, Voters Back Ruling Bloc in Estonia

By Ellen Barry

Early results in Estonia’s parliamentary election on Sunday showed the ruling coalition headed for a victory, in a remarkable show of support for a government that has imposed harsh austerity measures to lift the country out of recession.

Final counts showed that the two coalition parties — the Reform Party and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union — had garnered 29 percent and 21 percent of the vote respectively, granting them a majority in the new Parliament. The main opposition party, the Center Party, had 23 percent of the vote, and the Social Democratic Party had 17 percent.

The vote reflects approval for a government that continued to embrace laissez-faire capitalism during the painful months after the global downturn. After Estonia’s economy shrank nearly 15 percent, the state reduced its budget by the equivalent of 9 percent of gross domestic product. Demand fell steeply, and unemployment crept up, early in 2010, to 19.8 percent.

But in contrast to their neighbors in Latvia, where economic troubles led to riots and the government’s collapse, Estonians stoically absorbed the suffering. These sacrifices allowed Estonia to join the euro zone in January, a move its leaders hailed as a sign that the country was on its way to achieving Western European standards of living. Meanwhile, the economy has been projected to grow by 4 percent this year, and unemployment has dropped to around 10 percent, according to the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund.

The opposition leader Edgar Savisaar, the mayor of the capital, Tallinn, and head of the Center Party, argued during the campaign that the government had overlooked the suffering of average people in its drive to join the euro zone.

Mr. Savisaar, who is popular with Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority, was damaged by a report in the newspaper Postimees that he had solicited money to finance the construction of a Russian Orthodox church from Vladimir I. Yakunin, who is the president of Russian Railways and a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. The newspaper quoted Estonian intelligence officials as saying that Mr. Savisaar posed a danger to state security.

“For me, asking for money like this is disgusting and abominable,” Andrus Ansip, the prime minister, told the newspaper. “What are we talking about, when the chairman of a political party goes to a former senior K.G.B. officer to ask for money in order to conduct an election campaign? It is something the people of Estonia must definitely know about, even if it cannot be legally proven.”

Mr. Savisaar acknowledged asking for 1.5 million euros, but he said the funds would not grant Russia any influence over Estonian affairs.
The New York Times