The Estonian prime minister’s party, a strong supporter of Ukraine, won big

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Voters in Estonia A new parliament was elected on Sunday with early results favoring Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ centre-right Reform Party.. One of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine had a landslide victory with almost all votes counted.

Kallas faces a challenge from the far-right populist EKRE party, which seeks to limit the Baltic country’s exposure to the Ukraine crisis and blames the current government for Estonia’s high inflation rate.

A total of nine political parties have fielded candidates for Estonia’s 101-seat parliament, or Rigikoku. About 900,000 people were eligible to vote in the general election, with nearly half voting early.

With 99% of the votes counted, the Reform Party had 31.4%, EKRE 16.1% and the Center Party, traditionally supported by Estonia’s sizeable ethnic-Russian minority, 15%.

“This still pending decision will give us a strong mandate to form a good government,” Kallas told his party colleagues and jubilant supporters at a hotel in the capital, Tallinn.

“With such a strong mandate, I think (aid to Ukraine) will not change because other parties, except EKRE and perhaps the center, have chosen the same path,” he said.

Preliminary results suggest that six parties passed the 5% required in parliament, including the liberal centrist party East 200. According to preliminary reports, 63.7% voting was recorded.

Early results mean the Reform Party is in a remarkably strong position to play a key role in forming Estonia’s next government; Its support translates to 37 seats in the Assembly. But it needs younger partners to form coalitions with a comfortable majority to form a government.

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Kallas has ruled out being in a government with EKRE due to ideological differences, and former coalition partner the Center Party and outgoing coalition partners – the smaller conservative Fatherland Party and the Social Democrats – are likely to switch to the pact.

A new EST 200 may be included in government negotiations with the reform.

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

Kallas, 45, became prime minister in 2021 and has emerged as one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine. During the year-long war. He is seeking a second term in office, boosted by international appeals for sanctions against Moscow.

A Baltic nation of 1.3 million people bordering Russia to the east, Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took a decidedly western course, joining NATO. and the European Union.

Kallas’ centre-right Reform Party, which has played a prominent role in Estonian politics since the mid-1990s, served as Prime Minister continuously from 2005–2016 and regained it in 2021.

EKRE party leader Martin Helm, the prime minister’s main rival, blamed the country’s inflation rate of 18.6%, one of the highest in the EU, and accused him of undermining Estonia’s security by supplying arms to Ukraine.

“We have never questioned support for Ukraine. “We have never questioned Estonia’s membership in NATO,” Helm said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is just crazy talk. But we have been very critical of the government because they did not assess the risk to Estonia and Estonian safety and security.

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“We’ve basically given all of our heavy weapons to Ukraine, and a replacement will come in two or three years. Basically, it’s a call to occupation,” he said.

The outspoken and polarizing EKRE entered the mainstream of Estonian politics in the 2019 election, when it emerged as the third largest party with nearly 18% of the vote. The Eurosceptic Party was co-founded by Martin Helm’s father, Martin Helm, and was part of the Center Party-led government in 2019–21.

Kalas argues that helping Kiev is in his country’s interests. A full-scale invasion of Ukraine has fueled fears in Tallinn that a Russian victory could encourage Moscow to shift its focus to other countries it controlled during the Soviet era, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania..

He says Estonia’s defenses are strong because the United States and other NATO allies have supplied Ukraine and Estonia with advanced weapons such as the Himars missile system.

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Kostya Manenkov in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.

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