Pro-EU liberal, far-right firebrand take on Estonia PM


Tallinn (AFP)

The daughter of a former European Commissioner and a far-right firebrand face off against centrist Prime Minister Juri Ratas in Sunday's general election in Estonia.

Here are the top contenders in the race:

- Juri Ratas -

Ratas became one of the world's youngest leaders when he took over as Estonia's prime minister in late 2016 at the age of 38.

With a background in law and economics, Ratas cut his political teeth as the mayor of the capital Tallinn between 2005-7, when he launched the European Green Capital project focused on fostering eco-friendly urban living.

It is now an annual award that recognises one European city each year working to improve its environmental record.

In 2007, the married father of four won a parliamentary seat on the centrist Centre party ticket and was elected its deputy-speaker.

In late 2016, Ratas took over as Centre party leader from Edgar Savisaar, whose perceived ties to Russia had scared off potential coalition partners amid heightened tensions with Russia.

The move paved the way to Centre leading a three-party coalition government that took office in November 2016.

- Kaja Kallas -

Kaja Kallas was elected leader of the opposition liberal Reform party in April 2018 after having become an MP in 2011 and an MEP in 2014.

A staunch europhile, she is the daughter of former Estonian prime minister Siim Kallas, who also led the Reform party before serving as European commissioner for transport between 2010-14.

Kallas, 41, has been repeatedly included on lists of the most influential MEPs. In 2017, she made Politico's list of the most influential women in Brussels and the VoteWatch think tank's top 10 most influential MEPs in the areas of digital and communications policy.

Kallas is a passionate proponent of innovation who argues that regulations must not hinder the digital technological revolution.

Focused on the rights of small and medium-sized enterprises, Kallas believes that borders in the digital world prevent innovative companies from emerging.

- Mart Helme -

Born in 1949, the leader of the far-right ERKE is significantly older than his two main rivals.

Helme's father was a veteran of the Estonian Legion, a military unit comprised of forcibly drafted and volunteer Estonian soldiers that served as part of Nazi German SS forces in World War II.

A historian, Helme became a diplomat in 1994 after Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union, and served as Estonia's ambassador to Russia for several years.

He entered politics in the early 2000s before eventually taking over the leadership of the far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

His son Martin Helme is currently the party's deputy chairman and leads it in parliament.

The eurosceptic EKRE stands to win around 20 percent of the vote in Sunday's election.

The party opposes same-sex marriage, EU refugee relocation efforts and wants to cut the public funding of abortions.

It has also raised the idea of an "Estxit" referendum on EU membership although it says it does not support leaving bloc which is very popular among Estonians. The party is deeply suspicious of Russia and favours NATO membership.

Helme himself has publicly expressed xenophobic, sexist and homophobic views, and the members of his party have included people convicted of violent crimes and Nazi sympathisers.