Estonia's opposition centre-right Reform Party smashed the pre-election polling projections to secure a resounding victory over the ruling centre-left government of Prime Minister Juri Ratas, making a major triumph for the victorious party's pro-Western leader, Kaja Kallas.
Estonia was on track Monday for its first woman prime minister after the opposition liberal Reform party won a general election, outpacing the governing centre-left and a surging far-right party drawing on support from hurting rural voters.
Kallas, a 41-year-old lawyer and former MEP specialised in digital issues, took over as Reform leader less than a year ago.
Estonia's Russian minority, who make up a quarter of the population, were also a key issue in the campaign.
Ruling party "Centre" came second with 23% of the ballots, and far-right anti-immigration and anti-EU "Conservative People's Party of Estonia" came third with 18% of the vote (more than double its result of the last election).
Officials said voter turnout was 57 percent four hours before polls closed.
"EKRE is not a choice for us", said Kallas and added that Reform would "keep all coalition options on the table", adding that her party had "strong differences with Centre in three areas: taxation, citizenship, and education". Estonia's first female president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has been in office since 2016, though the role is largely ceremonial. "But it's hard to see that they have an impact on policymaking", she said.
PM Juri Ratas told ETV that Centre would consider being the junior coalition partner, but did not give details.
Holding a combined 60 seats in the 101-seat parliament, the two could govern together as they have done in the past.
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Since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union, rival parties Centre and Reform, have alternated in government and even governed together over the almost three decades.
The two main parties support continued austerity policies, which have left Estonia with the lowest debt level of any Eurozone country but have caused anger in rural communities who feel left behind.
Joblessness hovers at just under five percent while economic growth is expected to slow to 2.7 percent this year, from the 3.9 percent in 2018.
The Social Democrats and conservative Isamaa took 9.8 per cent and 11.4 per cent of vote respectively.
The party has no obvious coalition prospects.
Centre and Reform have governed in coalition in the past. Microsoft said last week that Estonia wasn't among countries targeted by a hacking group with alleged links to Russian Federation before the European Union parliamentary elections in May. Both parties strongly support European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership.
The Centre party has always been favoured by the Russian minority, who make up around a quarter of Estonia's population of 1.3 million.
The minority is counting on Centre to save the existing education system that is comprised of Estonian and Russian-language schools set up in Soviet times, while Reform and EKRE want to scrap Russian-language teaching.
To avoid losing voters suspicious of Russia, Ratas insists that a 2004 cooperation deal with Vladimir Putin's United Russia party is "frozen", but he has refused to abandon it for fear of losing the Russian vote.