February 26, 2024

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Pro-Ukrainian Prime Minister of Estonia Kalas wins re-election

Pro-Ukrainian Prime Minister of Estonia Kalas wins re-election

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ center-right Reform Party, one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine, won a landslide in the Baltic state’s general election, while a far-right rival lost seats in a vote focused on national security and the economy. .

Preliminary results from a full vote count showed the Islah party, the senior partner in the outgoing three-party coalition government, with 31.2% of the vote – the largest share in Sunday’s election.

That translates to 37 seats in Estonia’s 101-seat Parliament, or Riigikogu, an increase of three seats from the 2019 election.

“This result, which is not yet final, will give us a strong mandate to form a good government,” Klass told her party colleagues and cheering supporters at a hotel in the capital, Tallinn.

Klass, prime minister since 2021, has faced a challenge from the far-right populist party EKRE, which seeks to reduce the Baltic nation’s exposure to Russia’s war in Ukraine.and blames the current government for high inflation in Estonia.

EKRE finished second with 16.1% of the vote and 17 seats in the legislature, down two seats from four years ago. The Center Party, traditionally favored by Estonia’s large ethnic Russian minority, came third with 15.3% of the vote.

The biggest surprise of the election, when more than 900,000 people were eligible to vote, was the emergence of Eesti 200, a small centrist liberal party, which won 14 seats and 13.3% of the vote.

“I think that with such a strong mandate it (aid to Ukraine) will not change because other parties, except for EKRE and perhaps the Center, have chosen the same line,” Klass said.

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She was referring to the large aid Estonia, a small country of 1.3 million people, gave to Ukraine last year. Apart from weapons, Estonia provides Kiev with significant humanitarian aid and has taken in more than 60,000 Ukrainian refugees.

The nationalist EKRE, largely running on an anti-EU and anti-immigrant platform, has called for a cap on the number of refugees from Ukraine, saying Estonia cannot handle that many people.

Its leader, Martin Hilme Kallas, was also accused of undermining Estonia’s defenses by donating arms to Ukraine.

Kallas says it is in her country’s interest to help Kiev.

Post-election political observers noted that EKRE’s attack on the Reform Party of Ukraine’s policies was likely the main reason why some voters turned away from the Populist Party.

An all-out invasion of Ukraine sparked fears in Tallinn that a Russian victory might embolden Moscow to turn its attention to other countries it controlled in Soviet times, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all NATO members now.

Estonia, which borders Russia, seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took a distinctly western path, joining NATO and the European Union.

Preliminary results mean that the Reform Party is in a remarkably strong position to take a leading role in shaping Estonia’s next government. But it will need junior partners to form a coalition with a comfortable majority to govern.

Klass has ruled out being in government with EKRE due to ideological and political differences, and is likely to turn to former coalition partner the Center Party and outgoing coalition partners – the small conservative Home Party and the Social Democrats – for an agreement.

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Newcomer Eesti 200 is also likely to be included in the government’s talks with reform.

Klas emerged as the most popular candidate in the election with 31,821 votes, a record in Estonia’s political history. Her father Sim Klass, honorary president of the Reform Party, was also elected to the Riigikogu. He served as Prime Minister of Estonia from 2002-2003.

Kaja Kallas is a 45-year-old lawyer and former member of the European Parliament. She assumed the position of head of the Islah Party in 2018, which was founded by her father in 1994.

National security in the aftermath of Russia’s neighboring Ukraine invasion and social and economic issues, particularly the rising cost of living, were major campaign themes.

Preliminary results indicated that six parties crossed the 5% threshold of support needed to be in Parliament.

The voter turnout reached 63.7%, which is equal to the previous elections, according to preliminary information.

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An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show that the Eesti 200 won 14 seats and 13.3% of the vote, not 14%.