Voter turnout was 63.7 percent, with more than than 47 percent of votes cast by post or online
Tallinn (AFP) - Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’s centre-right Reform Party won Estonia’s general election by a wide margin on Sunday, according to near-complete results, beating out a far-right rival that had campaigned against further arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Reform won 31.6 percent of the vote, with right-wing runners-up EKRE taking 16 percent. In order to stay in power, Reform will again have to form a coalition with one or more of the parties in the Baltic state’s 101-seat parliament.
The Centre Party secured 14.7 percent of Sunday’s ballot, Estonia 200 got 13.5 percent, the Social Democrats received 9.4 percent and the Isamaa (Fatherland) party 8.3 percent.
“This is much better than we expected,” Kallas said of the result. “We have ruled out a coalition with EKRE and I stand by my words.”
EKRE leader Martin Helme suggested on election night that Reform “stole” the election.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. We did everything right and with honesty, unlike those who stole our well-deserved victory,” he said.
Reform is a centre-right liberal party that appeals to business owners and young professionals.
It has promised to raise military spending to at least three percent of GDP and ease taxes on business, and wants to pass a law approving same-sex civil partnerships.
EKRE, meanwhile, had campaigned against additional military aid to Kyiv, called for a halt in Ukrainian refugee arrivals and for lower immigration rates to protect local workers.
The electoral commission must still verify the results, but if confirmed, Reform will win 37 seats – three more than they did four years ago.
- Escalating tensions -
Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people bordering Russia, is a member of the EU and NATO, and has led international calls over the past year for more military aid to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas's centre-right Reform Party is set to win
Its military assistance to Ukraine amounts to more than one percent of GDP – the biggest contribution of any country relative to the size of its economy – and the ongoing war there was on many voters’ minds.
“It’s obvious that what is happening in Ukraine is very important for Estonia as well,” 35-year-old engineer Juhan Ressar told AFP at a polling station in the capital Tallinn.
“Maybe people… have forgotten the importance of independence.”
Speaking of aid to Ukraine, Kallas said on Sunday: “I think with such a strong mandate this will not change.”
“Other parties – except EKRE and maybe Centre – have chosen the same line. So I think we can find common ground here,” she added.
According to EKRE’s Helme, Estonia should not be “further escalating tensions” with Moscow.
Estonia has led international calls for more military aid for Ukraine
Estonia has also been grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, enduring one of the EU’s highest inflation rates – 18.6 percent in January over 12 months earlier.
For 62-year-old pensioner Pjotr Mahhonin, only EKRE “represents the Estonian people”. He accused the prime minister of being more interested in “another country”, referring to Ukraine.
Like many Estonians, he said he feared war. “We have a big neighbour, Russia, and it’s very dangerous.
“If war starts, we are the country on the front line.”
- Abstention uncertainty -
Rein Toomla, a political expert from the Johan Skytte Institute, said Reform could safely exclude EKRE from any coalition building, as its “position has now become so weak that it can be easily ignored”.
According to political analysts, a coalition between Reform, Estonia 200 and the Social Democrats is possible, as is one between Reform, Centre and Isamaa.
The Centre Party, which is traditionally popular with Estonia’s large Russian-speaking minority, has supported government policy on Ukraine and on Russia. The centre-left party had also promised more investment in infrastructure and affordable housing.
This put off some Russian-speaking voters, raising fears of high rates of abstention among the minority, who account for around a quarter of the population.
Overall voter turnout was 63.5 percent, according to the electoral commission.