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

TALLIN, Estonia (AP) – A centre-right party that held the Prime Minister’s Office in Estonia for over a decade won the Baltic country’s general election on 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 per cent 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’ Centre Party, garnered 23.1 per cent of the vote. The anti-immigration Estonian Conservative People’s Party, known as EKRE, came in third with 17.8 per cent.

The rival Reform and Centre 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 per cent of the vote and seven parliament seats in the 2015 election. An 18 per cent showing translates to 19 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu.

Leader of the liberal Reform Party Kaja Kallas celebrates with party members after winning Estonia’s general election in Tallin. – AFP

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 five per cent 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.