The opposition liberal Reform Party has scored a victory over the ruling center-left Center Party of Prime Minister Juri Ratas, according to final results of the March 3 election in which the far right also emerged with increased support.
The Baltic nation’s election commission reported early on March 4 that the pro-Western Reform Party took 28.8 percent of the vote, winning 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, known as the Riigikogu.
The party had 30 seats in the previous parliament.
The Center Party took 23.9 percent for 26 seats, down from 27 in 2014.
The nationalist, far-right Estonian Conservative People's Party, also known as EKRE, was third with 17.8 percent and 19 seats.
The percentage more than doubled the party’s 8.1 percent showing in the previous election and was an increase of 12 seats in parliament.
Two parties in the governing coalition, Isamaa and the Social Democrats, took 11.4 percent of the votes (12 seats) and 9.8 percent (10 seats), respectively.
The results could be considered a mild upset. Preelection surveys had indicated Center would win in a tight race over Reform.
The potential for a coalition appears to be wide open.
Isamaa and the Social Democrats could again team up with Center or switch to Reform. Or Center and Reform could choose to govern together in an effort to reduce EKRE’s influence.
Election officials said turnout was 61 percent, with 562,000 of the country’s nearly 1 million eligible voters casting ballots. About one-quarter of eligible voters cast their ballots online.
Reform held the prime minister's post from 2005-16. The party is led by 41-year-old Kaja Kallas, the daughter of party founder and former Prime Minister Siim Kallas. She is a member of the European Parliament and an outspoken Europhile.
"Now the real work begins to put together the government and start running the country with common sense," Kallas told broadcaster ETV/ERR.
Saying that "EKRE is not a choice for us," Kallas said her party would "keep all coalition options on the table" while noting her party had "strong differences" with the rival Center party.
Ratas said "of course" when asked if Center would consider joining a coalition with Reform as a junior partner, but he did not elaborate.
Center has supporters among the ethnic Russians who make up 25 percent of the population.
In 2016, Ratas took over as party leader and established a three-party coalition government that took office in November 2016.
Center signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in 2004. Ratas has said the deal is "frozen," but he has refused to rip it up.
Russia has kept close watch on the military and security affairs of Estonia and Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania since they became NATO members in 2004, just 13 years after breaking free from the collapsing U.S.S.R.
The United States never recognized the Baltic states as Soviet republics.
NATO placed a multinational battalion in Estonia in 2017 as it beefed up its presence near Russia's borders after the Baltic state expressed concerns over Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
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