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Mar 1, 2015 8:32 PM

Estonia's ruling pro-Western Reform Party wins election

The Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) Estonia's ruling Reform Party has emerged as the overall winner in the Baltic country's general election dominated by economic issues and security concerns over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

With all votes counted, Prime Minister Taavi Roivas declared victory early Monday. Polls had predicted a close race between the governing center-right coalition and the opposition Center Party, favored by ethnic Russians.

Roivas' pro-Western, liberal party won 28 percent of the votes to take 30 seats, three seats less than in the previous election but five more than the main opposition centrists.

The ruling coalition now holds 45 seats in the 101-seat Parliament, down from 52 after the previous election in 2011, meaning reforms in the government composition are expected although mainstream policies likely will remain the same.

Even though Estonia is a NATO member, many are worried that Moscow will try to increase its influence in the former Soviet republic, where one-fourth of its 1.3 million residents are ethnic Russians. All main political parties strongly support defense spending and a continuation of the NATO presence in Estonia, which together with neighbors Latvia and Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union for nearly five decades.

"I think NATO's pledge to defend Estonia doesn't mean anything. We're located in a buffer zone and NATO just reacts too slowly," said Ivari Manni, a 51-year-old designer who voted at a Tallinn shopping center. "Estonia should adopt a Swiss-style home army model, where guns are kept at home."

The main electoral differences focused on economic questions, including tax reforms. Estonia has continued to show strong growth even as many of its European partners are struggling.

All wage earners pay a flat 20 percent income tax, which opposition centrists want to change to a progressive tax system a move supported by the minority government partner, the Social Democrats.

The Reform Party is opposed to abolishing the current tax system, focusing instead on job creation to improve the economy of Estonia, a member of the eurozone since 2011.

Preliminary results showed a 63.7 percent turnout in the electorate of almost 1 million, up from 63.5 in 2011.

Some 176,000 votes were cast electronically, setting a record in the country, which pioneered online voting in 2005.


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