Chairwoman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas speaks at her party headquarters Sunday after a parliamentary elections in Tallinn, Estonia. Estonians are voting in a parliamentary election Sunday in the small Baltic nation in a ballot where Prime Minister Juri Ratas and his Center Party are pitted against the center-right opposition Reform Party and where populists are seen making inroads. (AP Photo/Raul Mee)

Chairwoman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas speaks at her party headquarters Sunday after a parliamentary elections in Tallinn, Estonia. Estonians are voting in a parliamentary election Sunday in the small Baltic nation in a ballot where Prime Minister Juri Ratas and his Center Party are pitted against the center-right opposition Reform Party and where populists are seen making inroads. (AP Photo/Raul Mee)

Center-right party tops Estonia vote, but populists win, too

The opposition Reform Party received 28.8 percent of the vote, making it the top vote-getter.

By Jari Tanner / Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia — A center-right party that held the prime minister’s office in Estonia for over a decade won the Baltic country’s general election Sunday, while a far-right populist party emerged as a big winner despite snubs from traditional power-brokers.

Preliminary returns from a completed ballot count showed the opposition Reform Party received 28.8 percent of the vote, making it the top vote-getter. The party, which supports low taxes and minimal government involvement, held the premiership in Estonia from 2005-2016.

The senior partner in the current coalition government, Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ Center Party, garnered 23.1 percent of the vote. The anti-immigration Estonian Conservative People’s Party, known as EKRE, came in third with 17.8 percent.

The rival Reform and Center parties, the two main political groupings since Estonia regained independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, shared an election goal of keeping EKRE from making inroads.

The euroskeptic party, led by father and son Mart and Martin Helme, won 8.1 percent of the vote and seven parliament seats in the 2015 election. An 18 percent showing translates to 19 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu.

Martin Helme, who leads EKRE’s faction in parliament, said he sees the party’s gains as part of a trend in Europe and other parts of the world.

“I think Estonia is no different than almost all other countries in Europe, where there’s a serious public demand for political parties who will stand up against the globalist agenda and the ever-increasing movement of power from (EU) member states to Brussels.”

Only five parties passed the 5 percent threshold of support needed to be in parliament.

The two leading parties ruled out forming a coalition with EKRE as a partner, saying populists have no place in the Estonian government. EKRE chairman Mart Helme said he had not given up on the idea.

“Yes, of course we would like to be in the coalition because every party wants to carry out its promises and program,” Helme told The Associated Press at the party’s election event in Tallinn’s Old Town.

Estonia has a population of 1.3 million, and nearly 1 million voters were eligible to elect parliament representatives to four-year terms. Election officials said preliminary figures put Sunday’s turnout at 63.1 percent, slightly lower than in 2015.

Campaigning mostly focused on social and economic issues, including taxes. Center campaigned mainly on public benefits, such as increasing pensions and better support for young families. Reform focused on job creation and improving the climate for businesses.

As prime minister, Ratas, 40, has led a coalition government made up of his Center Party, the Social Democrats and the conservative Fatherland since November 2016. His government replaced a Reform government that lost a confidence vote.

The junior partners in the ruling coalition had a weak showing Sunday with both losing seats.

Ratas’ government substantially increased excise duties on alcohol, partly on health grounds. The Baltic nation has one of the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths in Europe.

Center and its coalition partners also reformed Estonia’s flat income tax system, a cornerstone of the economy.

The Reform Party held the prime minister’s post continuously from 2005-2016. Its internal divisions led to the party changing leaders several times in recent years.

Its current head, Kaja Kallas, became the party’s first female leader last year. She is the daughter of Siim Kallas, one of the Reform Party’s creators and a former prime minister.

Kallas, a lawyer and a former European Parliament lawmaker, said Ratas’ Cabinet “has totally messed (up) the tax system.excise duties, income tax system and people are really annoyed by this.”

All parties, including the EKRE, agree that NATO and the EU are the cornerstones of Estonia’s security and foreign policy.

About 26 percent of Estonians cast votes online by a Feb. 27 deadline. Electronic voting pioneer Estonia was the first country in the world to use online balloting for a national election in 2005. No online voting took place on election day.

———

Mstyslav Chernov and Philipp-Moritz Jenne contributed to this report.

Talk to us

More in Nation-World

John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80

He was best known for leading 600 protesters in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Comet streaking past Earth, providing spectacular show

NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March.

Boeing has settled almost all Lion Air crash-death claims

The company didn’t say how much it paid the families of the people killed in the 2018 Indonesia crash.

Supreme Court: LGBT people protected from job discrimination

Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Boeing, suppliers plunge on stop-and-go 737 Max comeback

An uptick in Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has added to concerns that airlines face a prolonged recovery

Boeing goes another month without a single airliner order

Airlines are canceling thousands of flights while passengers remain too scared to fly.

Bellevue couple’s nightmare: Held in China, away from daughter

Chinese officials want the man’s father to return from the U.S. to face 20-year-old embezzling charges.

Airbus CEO warns workers it’s bleeding cash and needs cuts

Both Airbus and Boeing are preparing for job cuts as they gauge the depth of the downturn.

U.S. unsure it can meet deadline to disburse funds to tribes

The department hasn’t determined whether unique Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share.

As people stay home, Earth turns wilder and cleaner

“There’s some silver lining for wildlife in what otherwise is a fairly catastrophic time for humans.”

Trump, Congress scramble to revive virus-hunting agency

In 2019 it was without a permanent leader, and in the Trump administration’s budget-slashing sights.

Virus casts a dark cloud over once-thriving home market

Shutdown orders have halted open houses, sellers are delaying listings and buyers are losing their jobs.