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Estonians head to the polls as PM Ratas seeks new term amid far-right gains

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Estonians head to the polls Sunday
Estonians head to the polls Sunday   -   Copyright  REUTERS/INTS KALNINS

Estonians head to the polls on Sunday with incumbent centre-left Prime Minister Juri Ratas the frontrunner.

Still, Ratas could face a nearly impossible task of forging a parliament majority as the far-right, EKRE party could double its vote and push a nationalist agenda.

Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment among Baltic nations, but regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.

EKRE’s heartland is the area furthest from the capital where its promise to shake up politics including a fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015.

Recent opinion polls leading up to the election suggest EKRE has held on to the gains since then.

EKRE’s increased support, part of the rise of far-right populist parties across much of Europe, means building a strong coalition in the fragmented parliament will be difficult as all other parties have ruled out governing with EKRE.

“I am sure that there will be an effort to find any other combination to form a government, just as long as we are not in it,” Martin Helme, one of EKRE’s leaders, sitting in his office in front of a map of Estonia before Moscow’s 1940 occupation.

EKRE’s success could lead to a coalition of Estonia’s main rivals - Ratas’ traditionally pro-Russian Centre and pro-Western Reform – which have not governed together since 2003.

An opinion poll by public broadcaster ERR showed Centre, whose core supporters are Estonia’s Russian-speakers and which has a co-operation pact with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, would remain biggest with 28% of votes.

Reform polled at 24% and EKRE at 17% while Ratas’ current coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the conservative Fatherland, stood at around 10 % each.