Estonia’s Center Right Wins Election, but Far Right Does Well, Too

Estonia’s Center Right Wins Election, but Far Right Does Well, Too

TALLINN, Estonia — A center-right party that held the prime minister’s office in Estonia for over a decade won a general election Sunday, while a far-right populist party emerged as a big winner despite snubs from traditional power brokers.

Preliminary returns showed the opposition Reform Party receiving 28.8 percent 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 to 2016

The senior partner in the current coalition government, Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ Center Party, garnered 23.1 percent of the vote. The anti-immigration Estonian Conservative People’s Party, known as EKRE, came in third with 17.8 percent.

The rival Reform and Center 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.

In the 2015 election, the euroskeptic party, led by father and son Mart and Martin Helme, won 8.1 percent of the vote and seven seats in Parliament. An 18 percent showing translates to 19 seats in the 101-seat Parliament.

Martin Helme said he saw 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,” he said.

Only five parties passed the 5 percent 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. Mart Helme said he had not given up on the idea.

Estonia has a population of 1.3 million, and nearly one million voters were eligible to elect members of Parliament to four-year terms. Election officials said preliminary figures put Sunday’s turnout at 63.1 percent, slightly lower than in 2015.

Campaigning mostly focused on social and economic issues, including taxes. Center campaigned mainly on public benefits, such as increasing pensions and better support for young families. Reform focused on job creation and improving the climate for businesses.

As prime minister, Mr. Ratas, 40, has led a coalition government made up of his Center Party, the Social Democrats and the conservative Fatherland since November 2016. His government replaced a Reform government that lost a confidence vote.

The junior partners in the ruling coalition had a weak showing Sunday, with both losing seats.


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