The Estonian Prime Minister’s party, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, scores a big win

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) – Voters in Estonia A new parliament was elected on Sunday with preliminary results suggesting the center-right Reform Party headed by Prime Minister Kaja Kalas. One of Europe’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine won in a landslide after almost all the votes were counted.

Klass has faced a challenge from the far-right populist party EKRE, which seeks to reduce the Baltic state’s vulnerability to the Ukraine crisis and blames the current government for high inflation in Estonia.

Nine political parties from all fielded candidates for membership in Estonia’s 101-seat Parliament, or Riigikogu. More than 900,000 people were eligible to vote in the general election, and nearly half of them voted in advance.

With 99% of the votes counted, the Reform Party received 31.4% of the vote, followed by EKRE with 16.1% and the Center Party, favored by Estonia’s large ethnic Russian minority, with 15%.

“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.

“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,” she said.

Preliminary results indicated that six parties crossed the 5% threshold of support needed to be in parliament, including newcomer Eesti 200, a centrist liberal party. The voter turnout was 63.7%, according to preliminary information.

Preliminary results mean that the Reform Party is in a remarkably strong position to take a leadership role in shaping Estonia’s next government; Her support translates to 37 seats in the legislature. But it will need junior partners to form a coalition with a comfortable majority to govern.

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Klass has ruled out being in government with EKRE due to ideological 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.

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

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

Klass, 45, became prime minister in 2021 and has emerged as one of Europe’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine. During the war, which lasted a year. It is seeking a second term, while bolstering its position with its international appeals for sanctions against Moscow.

A Baltic country with a population of 1.3 million that borders Russia to the east, Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took a clear western path, joining NATO and the European Union.

Klass’ centre-right Reform Party, a major player in Estonian politics since the mid-1990s, held the post of Prime Minister continuously during 2005-2016 and regained it in 2021.

EKRE leader Martin Helme, the prime minister’s main rival, has criticized Klaas over the country’s 18.6% inflation rate, one of the highest in the European Union, and accused her of undermining Estonia’s defenses by giving weapons to Ukraine.

We have never questioned Ukraine’s support. “We have never questioned Estonia’s membership in NATO,” Helme said in an interview with the Associated Press. “This is just crazy talk. But we have severely criticized the government for not assessing the risks for Estonia and for Estonian security and defense.”

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“We basically ceded all our heavy weapons to Ukraine, and the replacement is coming in two or three years. Basically, this is an invitation to aggression.

Outspoken and polarizing EKRE entered the mainstream of Estonian politics in the 2019 elections, when it emerged as the third largest party with around 18% of the vote. The Eurosceptics Party was co-founded by Martin Helm’s father, Mart Helm, and was part of a Center Party-led government during 2019-21.

Kallas says it is in her country’s interest to help Kiev. An all-out invasion of Ukraine raised 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..

It says Estonia’s defenses remain strong because the United States and other NATO allies have supplied Ukraine and Estonia with first-class weapons such as the HIMARS missile system.

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Kostya Maninkov in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.

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