Estonia opposition wins election, eurosceptic party surges
Leading parties rule out forming coalition with anti-immigration EKREEuropost
Estonia's opposition liberal Reform party won general election, held on Sunday, outpacing centre-left PM Juri Ratas's Centre party and a surging far-right party, news wires reported. Turnout clocked in at 63.1% of eligible voters in this Baltic Eurozone state.
Led by former MEP Kaja Kallas, Reform garnered 28.8% of the vote, well ahead of Ratas's Centre party on 23%, with the far-right Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) more than doubling its previous election score at 17.8%, according to full results on Estonia's official state elections website. Two other parties in the race which currently govern in coalition with Ratas, the Social Democrats and conservative Isamaa, respectively took 9.8% and 11.4 % of the vote. Both could team up with Reform for a 56-seat majority in the 101-member parliament, or holding a combined 60 seats, arch-rivals Reform and Centre could govern together as they have done in the past.
"Now the real work begins to put together the government and start running the country with common sense," Kallas told public broadcaster ETV/ERR. Insisting that the "EKRE is not a choice for us," Kallas said Reform would "keep all coalition options on the table", adding that her party has "strong differences with Centre in three areas: taxation, citizenship, and education." As for Ratas, when asked if Centre would consider becoming a junior coalition partner, he said "of course" but declined to elaborate.
EKRE leader Mart Helme raised the idea of a Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coalition commanding a 57-seat majority, according to ETV/ERR. While it won just seven seats in the 2015 election, the EKRE is now a close third behind the mainstream parties. Staunchly eurosceptic, it called for an "Estxit" referendum on Estonia's EU membership, although the move would fail in the overwhelmingly pro-EU country.
Bread-and-butter issues like taxation and public spending had dominated the elections campaign, along with tensions over Russian-language education for Estonia's sizeable Russian minority and the rural-urban divide. Traditional rivals, Centre and Reform have alternated in government and even governed together over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union. Both strongly support Estonia's EU and NATO membership and have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country the eurozone's lowest debt-to-GDP ratio. The far-right EKRE captured support promising to slash income and excise taxes and pushing anti-immigration rhetoric.