TALLINN - Estonians will wait in line and online to vote in the nation's general election on March 4. Early polling indicates that populist Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar could return to the post of prime minister, a role he previously held in acting capacity between 1991 and 1992. A poll by TNS Emor published in the daily newspaper Postimees shows the Center Party leading the race with 26 percent of the vote, followed by Reform at 21 percent.
Current opposition party the Union of Res Publica and Pro Patria (IRL) is trailing in third place with 12 percent, indicating a major slide in popularity for the conservatives.
The Estonian Greens are expected to make a healthy debut on the political stage. Early polling shows they could win as many as five seats in parliament.
President Toomas Hend-rik Ilves said he would respect political convention and give the party with the most votes the first opportunity to form a government. If the polls prove correct, this would give Savisaar the first chance to assemble a coalition underneath him.
Tartu University political analyst professor Pettai said poll results should be viewed cautiously.
"Traditionally these polls fail to get into the country areas or the villages, and they vastly underestimate the support for the People's Union," he warned.
A separate survey indicates that voters are apathetic towards the national election, with less than half of eligible citizens expected to cast a vote.
Ilves attempted to rouse citizens out of their election apathy, saying it was tantamount to aggression toward the state. He reminded the nation that for 50 years they were unable to vote, and should now exercise their right.
Their apathy could be read as a reaction to the lacklustre campaign, which has seen all parties shower voters with glittering promises. Everything from free school lunches, dust-free roads, free laptop computers and the oft-touted pension increases have been pledged in the push for votes.
Yet political and economic analysts said important issues, such as taxation and economic management, received little proper debate.
Taxation remains a key concern, particularly for foreign investors, who are desperate to hear parties' response to EU demands for a company tax overhaul.
Most parties said they would attempt to keep the current effective company tax level, but did little to explain how this would be achieved.
Reform is intent on reducing the flat tax level to 18 percent, while the Centrists said a switch to a progressive tax system was necessary to reduce the tax burden on middle income earners.
Viktor Trasberg, associate professor at the Tartu University Faculty of Economics, said some election tax promises seemed unfeasible.
"The average overall discussion about economics this election has been very low and primitive," Professor Trasberg said.
He questioned plans by some parties, such as the Social Democrats and IRL, to introduce special tax breaks for individuals who invest their savings.
"On the surface it seems easy and populistic, but it might open tax avoidance possibilities. It requires so much new regulation and explanation. I am suspicious about how it could work."
As many as 40,000 votes are expected to be cast via the internet in what some observers have called the world's first national online election.
In a sign of trust in the e-voting system, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip used the Internet to vote in advance on Feb. 26. Residents need to hold an identification card and register online to take part in the e-voting system, which was trialled during the 2005 local government elections.
But the e-voting system is not as simple as sending an email or using internet banking. Users must enter their card into a chip reader attached to their computer, and must then enter two passwords to cast their vote.
The last weeks of the campaign saw Justice Chancellor Allar Joks act out against the government for failing to pass adequate laws to make campaign funding more transparent.
Joks, who acts as a watchdog over parliamentary activities, said the upcoming election could not be considered fair under the present system, which gives no avenue for party financing to be thoroughly investigated.
"At the moment, we do not know who is paying for the politician's decisions," Joks said.
Leader: Edgar Savisaar
- Switch to progressive tax system
- Cautious engagement with EU
- Boost pensions to 8,000 kroons by 2011
- Free lunches for school students
- Increase public servant salaries to 25,000 kroons
Poll prediction: 26%, 35 seats*
Leader: Multiple leadership
- More frequent referendums
- Promote alternative energy sources, phase out shale oil
- Ban junk food in schools
- Increased access to university
Poll prediction: 7%, 7 seats
Leader: Andrus Ansip
- Lower income tax to 18% in four years, keep company tax system
- Investment tax breaks for individuals
- Double pension payments over four years
- Kindergarten places for all
Poll prediction: 21%, 31 seats
Leader: Ivari Padar
- Free university for 60% of school graduates
- Expand Tallinn-Tartu road to four lanes by 2015
- Increase medical budget
- Phase out oil shale mining, move to renewable energy
Poll prediction: 6%, 5 seats
Pro Patria and Res Publica (IRL)
Leader: Mart Laar
- Tax breaks on individuals' investments
- Maintain company tax level
- Free laptops for every student (after the 9th grade)
Poll prediction: 12%, 15 seats
Leader: Villu Reiljan
- Bring company tax in line with EU standards
- Raise tax-free level to 5000 kroons
- Raise pensions, fix rural roads
Poll prediction: 5%, 8 seats
*Poll predictions: Postimees/TNS-Emor, Feb. 27, 2007