Estonia. According to
Countryaah official website, the March parliamentary elections revealed a
deep dissatisfaction with the economic situation and led to
a shift in power. Prime Minister Mart Siimann's party, the
Assembly Party (Eesti Koonderakond), which won by almost a
third of the votes four years earlier, shrank to 7.6%.
Widespread unemployment and poverty in the countryside paved
the way for the controversial Edgar Savisaar and Center
Party (Eesti Keskarakond), who won the election with 23.4%
of the vote. In the election campaign, Savisaar promised tax
relief for the poor and increased subsidies to the farmers.
But President Lennart Meri did not want to entrust
government formation to the authoritarian Savisaar. Instead,
the new prime minister became Mart Laar, whose conservative
party of the Fatherland (Isamaaliit) took 16% in the
election. Laar was also head of government in 1992-94. Now
he formed a coalition with the economically liberal Reform
Party (Eesti Reformierakond), led by Siim Kallas, who took
15.8%, and Andres Tarands Moderates (Mõõdukad), who got 15%.
Estonia's eligible Russian population was represented in
Parliament through the United People's Party (Eestimaa
Ühendatud Rahvapartei) with Russian-Estonian Sergei Ivanov
as popular front figure. The party received 6.4%. The
disputed language law was tightened at the beginning of the
year, requiring state employees to be able to master
Estonian. The decision was criticized by Russian-speakers,
who said it would increase unemployment in the already
heavily affected areas in the Northeast.
The entire country's unemployment was officially stated
at 5.2% in September, but in reality it was higher. The
growth rate in the Estonian economy has slowed down, among
other things. because of the Russian economic crisis. The
growth forecast for 1999 was 3-4%, compared with just over
11% growth two years earlier.
In June, the new government passed a crisis budget in
Parliament, with the sharpest cuts to the state
administration. However, the subsidies to the farmers were
not reduced, and even single mothers received a slight
Estonia became a member of the World Trade Organization
during the year. The government's goal is for Estonia to be
ready for entry into the EU in 2003, but disagreement in
Parliament on EU alignment threatens to delay membership. In
addition, Estonia has set a target for accession to NATO in
2002, which most analysts consider unrealistic.
In November, Parliament called on the Russian Federation
to end the war in Chechnya, and President Meri boycotted the
OSCE summit in Istanbul in protest that the organization was
no longer actively seeking to end the war.
The Estonian government and Estonian relatives of the
victims of the Estonia disaster welcomed the Swedish
government's decision during the year to refrain from
salvaging the perished.