Ruling Reform Party wins Estonian election, fending off challenge from archrival Center
The Reform Party, a right of center, market-liberal force that has played a dominant role in Estonian politics for more than a decade, has held off the latest challenge from a social centrist party in this general election and is expected to play a leading role in forming the next government.
The Reform Party, which has been the ruling party for eight years - the last 11 months under 35-year-old Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas - took 27.7 percent of the vote. It will get 30 seats.
The Center Party, which has been painted a "pro-Russia party" by some in the charged atmosphere of the changed security environment, came in second with 24.8 percent of the vote and 27 seats.
Domestically, Center is known for dominating politics in the capital city and its strong support from Russian-speakers. It backs a progressive income tax, and practices subsidization on the municipal level in Tallinn. It also introduced a free public transport program two years ago. The party's leader, Edgar Savisaar, was an iconic figure during the country's independence movement but was only been prime minister briefly, back in 1992. Savisaar easily broke his personal vote total set in 2011.
The Reform Party and Center Party have been in the same coalition in the past and are in the same group in European Parliament. But the relationship has been tainted by bitter accusations and criticism of the Center Party's leader's stance on Russia's incursions in Ukraine.
The election, in which 64.2 percent of a nearly 900,000-strong electorate voted, could also be seen as a referendum on tax policy, with the pro-business Reform Party left as the only major party in Estonia that backs an unadulterated flat income tax and low taxes on capital.
Current Reform-SDE coalition loses majority
The Reform Party's junior partner, the Social Democrats, garnered 15.2 percent, good for 15 seats, much less than its current 21, which had been swelled by defections from Center. That means the current coalition partners would fall several seats short of a 51-seat majority in Parliament.
The Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), a conservative party that is considered an ideologically more natural partner for Reform, will have 14 seats. It finished fourth in percentage of vote, with 13.7 percent.
For the first time in many elections, two new parties broke the 5 percent barrier for representation in Parliament. The Conservative People's Party, paralleling, albeit in a milder form, the rise of right-populist parties across Europe, got 7 seats. A more traditional right of center party, the Free Party, close to IRL on the political spectrum, will have 8 MPs.
There are several three-party combinations that could build a coalition. PM Taavi Rõivas ruled out cooperation with Center in his victory remarks shortly after midnight.
Top individual vote getters
Edgar Savisaar (Center; Tallinn mayor) - 24,848 (all-time record in Estonian general elections)
Taavi Rõivas (Reform; PM) - 15,862
Yana Toom (Center; MEP) - 11,573
Mihhail Kõlvart (Center; Tallinn politico) - 11,004
Toomas Kivimägi (Reform; Pärnu mayor) - 7,607