Estonia prime minister wins landslide election victory

Estonia’s prime minister Kaja Kallas has won a resounding victory in parliamentary elections, a triumph for one of the EU and NATO’s most pro-Ukraine votes.

Kallas’s liberal Reform party came in first place in Sunday’s vote, taking 37 seats of the 101st in Estonia’s parliament and putting her in pole position to carry on as prime minister and form a new coalition.

The far-right nationalist Ekre party came in second, its best-ever ranking, although it lost two seats to finish on 17th.

Estonia, a country of 1.3mn million people which borders Russia, has been one of the EU’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine. Kallas has heavily criticized Russia since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Her frequent appearances in the international media have ensured Estonia punches above its weight as she has other leaders to send more weapons to Ukraine, impose swinging sanctions on Russia and pushed reinforce the defence of the three Baltic states.

President Alar Karis urged the parliamentary parties on Monday to swiftly agree a new coalition. “The current situation does not favor a long period of uncertainty between the outgoing government packing its bags and the incoming coalition starting up,” the non-partisan president said.

Kallas landslide victory — Reform gained three seats and increased its share of the vote — gives her several possibilities for securing a majority in parliament, including a three-party coalition with two other liberal-leaning groups.

Reform now has 37 seats, Ekre 17, Center 16, new liberal party Eesti 200 14, and Kallas’s two current coalition partners—the Social Democrats and Isamaa—nine and eight respectively. Fifty-one seats are needed for a majority.

Estonia’s international image was damaged and its political system shaken after the 2019 elections when Reform, despite also coming in first place, did not manage to form a coalition. Instead, Ekre and the Center party, popular with Estonia’s large Russian-speaking minority, formed a controversial government for two years. The Center party, the biggest loser in Sunday’s poll, lost 10 seats.

During their stint in power, the nationalists insulted many of Estonia’s closest allies including US president Joe Biden and Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin. The coalition collapsed into scandal two years ago, leaving Kallas free to finally form a coalition and deal with both the Covid-19 crisis and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kallas said late on Sunday that Reform would talk to all parties but has already ruled out a coalition with Ekre. “We are very grateful for your assessment of our work,” she added.

Estonia is pushing its NATO allies to announce a heavier military presence in the Baltic states when they meet for a summit in Vilnius in Lithuania in July. Kallas told The Financial Times last week that western unity was becoming harder to maintain but that support for Ukraine needed to continue until it was victorious in the war against Russia.

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