8th Dec 2023

Pro-Western party retains power in Estonia

  • A quarter of Estonia's 1.3 million population are ethnic Russians (Photo: EC)

Estonians on Sunday (1 March) backed the governing centre-right Reform party in a parliamentary election underpinned by Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Europe’s youngest prime minister, Taavi Roivas, who, at 35, will now be tasked to form a coalition in parliament, leads the pro-Nato and Western-oriented party in the small Baltic state.

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"The Reform party is the 2015 winner of the parliamentary elections," Roivas announced on the ETV public television station.

Roivas' party claimed 27.7 percent with most of the votes counted, beating its closest rival, the pro-Russian Centre Party on 24.8 percent.

Reform now has 30 seats and Centre has 27 seats in the 101-parliament chamber. Four other parties make up the remainder.

The winning party will have to expand its coalition with its junior partner, the Social Democratic party, to obtain a majority in the chamber.

Roivas has ruled out seeking the extra seats from Centre, which draws most of its support from Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority.

But Centre leader Edgar Savisaar said, according to the Baltic News Service, that "a party which represents so many people of Estonia can’t be shunned or forced to be silent".

Savisaar courted controversy last year for backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. His party also signed a co-operation deal in 2004 with Putin’s United Russia party.

Pre-election polls had given Centre a narrow lead.

Sunday’s election win is in part attributed to Russian violations of Estonian airspace in the past year amid fears of escalating violence in Ukraine and possible spill-over effects.

Nato air policing missions have registered numerous incidents involving Russian aircraft in and around the Baltic states. The Estonian military also says Russian craft entered Estonian airspace seven times in 2014.

The incursions have led to an increased sense of insecurity, with some suggesting that Russia is seeking to deliberately destabilise the region.

Nato’s deputy supreme allied commander Europe, general Adrian Bradshaw, recently said there is a danger Russia may try to seize territory from the former Soviet states.

The alliance in early February announced it will step up defence systems in eastern Europe. One of the measures is a new facility in Estonia.

"This is something we do as a response to the aggressive actions we have seen from Russia, violating international law and annexing Crimea,” said Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the time.

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