TALINN, March 5 (AP) – Estonian voters cast their ballots Sunday in parliamentary elections and Prime Minister Kaja Karas’ center-right Reform Party, one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine, was seen as the favorite to win .
Karas faces a challenge from the far-right populist EKRE party, which seeks to limit the Baltic states’ influence on the Ukraine crisis and blames the current government for Estonia’s high inflation.
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There are nine political parties among all fielded candidates for Estonia’s 101-seat parliament, or Riigikogu.
More than 900,000 people are eligible to vote in the general election, with nearly half voting early.
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Preliminary election results are expected to be announced early Monday.
National security and socioeconomic concerns following the invasion of Ukraine by neighboring Russia, especially the rising cost of living, were major campaign themes.
Callas, 45, becomes prime minister in 2021 and has become one of Europe’s most outspoken supporters of Ukraine during the year-long war.
She is seeking re-election, boosted by her international calls for sanctions against Moscow.
Estonia, a Baltic state of 1.3 million people bordering Russia to the east, seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 and took a decidedly western route, joining NATO and the European Union.
There are representatives of five political parties in the outgoing parliament. Callas’ party leads the current coalition government with the smaller conservative Fatherland Party and the Social Democrats.
Her centre-right Reform Party has been a key player in Estonian politics since the mid-90s, serving consecutively as prime minister from 2005 to 2016 and regaining it in 2021.
For some voters, the party’s long tenure in power represents stability, while others seek change.
“Right now, I think everything is fine … the people who are making decisions,” voter Katrin Kiwissar said of the composition of the current cabinet in the Estonian capital Tallinn. “So I hope it will stay the way it is.”
Another voter, Oskar Vanem, said he thought it was time for a change.
“Everything depends on whether a new party is elected into the government. Many people are waiting for it. A small part (Reform Party) cannot stay in power forever like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin did in Moscow. We need change, “He said.
Opinion polls suggest Callas’ party is likely to win the most votes in Sunday’s election. Ekre party leader Martin Helm, the prime minister’s main challenger, blamed Karas for the country’s 18.6 percent inflation rate, one of the highest in the European Union, and accused her of undermining Estonia’s independence by arming Ukraine. defense.
“We never questioned our support for Ukraine. We never questioned Estonia’s membership in NATO,” Helm said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“It’s just crazy talk. But we’ve been critical of the government because they haven’t assessed the risk to Estonia and Estonia’s security and defense.”
“We’ve basically handed over all the heavy weapons to Ukraine, and there will be new replacements in two or three years. Basically, it’s a provocation,” he said.
The outspoken and polarizing EKRE entered the Estonian political mainstream in the 2019 general election, when it became the third-largest party with nearly 18 percent of the vote.
The Eurosceptic party was co-founded by Martin Helme’s father, Mart Helme, and was part of the Center Party-led government in 2019-21.
Karas believes it is in her national interest to help Kiev.
The all-out invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns in Tallinn that a Russian victory could encourage Moscow to shift its attention to other countries it controlled during the Soviet era, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
She said Estonia’s defenses remained strong thanks to the U.S. and other NATO allies providing Ukraine and Estonia with top-notch weapons such as the HIMARS rocket system. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)