Estonia set to have first female prime minister as pro-Western party and women make major gains in election

By NEOnline | IR

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.

Kallas is now poised to become Estonia’s first female prime minister and a woman is far from unknown in Brussels. The 41-year old previously served as a European Parliamentarian and she is the daughter of former Estonian prime minister and ex-EU commissioner, Siim Kallas.

The March 3 election was a major triumph for Estonia’s women politicians as the electorate voted in a record 29 women into the 101-seat parliament., Estonia will now have one of the highest percentages of women lawmakers in Europe and by far the country’s highest since it gained its independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The stunning election win for the Reform Party comes after less than a year with Kallas at the helm.  What made her victory even more unlikely was that the current government has led Estonia through a period of rapid economic growth and record-low unemployment.

The Reform Party will now After having secured 28.8% of the overall vote, the Reform Party will now have 34 seats in the Riigikogu, the country’s 101-seat parliament.

Following a trend that has been spreading across Europe since the 2016 Brexit referendum, Eurosceptic and nationalist parties also fared well in the election, with the right-wing EKRE party doubling its electoral influence after it secured 17.8% of the vote. The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) secured 43,7% of the Diaspora vote from polling stations opened in 35 countries.

Estonia’s president is due to nominate Kallas as prime minister, who will, in turn, begin negotiations to form a coalition. She needs to navigate between the Eurosceptic nationalists from EKRE and the ruling pro-Russian Estonia Centre Party.

On most issues, the Estonia Centre Party is Reform’s natural ally, but the two parties have significant policy differences, particularly on taxation and foreign policy, particularly towards Russia. Centre has been advocating for increasingly progressive taxation following the Finnish model, while Reform has championed a flat tax that would follow the Irish model.

Reform may look to form a government with smaller parties that align more closely on key policy issues with Kallas saying, “We will keep all the options open for a coalition.”

Since being the victim of one of the world’s first cyber warfare attacks by Russia in 2007, Estonia has evolved into one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

The Estonian government’s e-Estonia project and its virtual X-Road platform allow its citizens to manage their health care coverage, banking, tax-paying, policing, and education through a broadband or fibre optic networks that connect the whole country.

Legislators can digitally enact laws through a programme called e-Cabinet, while Estonia’s 1.3 million citizens use e-voting to elect and communicate with the nation’s politicians.

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