Government 'wins' Estonia election
Estonia's centre-right government is poised to stay in power for a second term after winning a clear parliamentary majority in the Baltic country's first election as a eurozone member, preliminary results showed.
The outcome was a sign of political stability taking hold in a nation with a 1.3 million population where no previous government had managed to serve a full term since Western-style democracy replaced communism following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
Unlike Irish voters, who punished their government last month for their battered economy, Estonians remained confident in Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's coalition even though it, too, presided over a dramatic boom-to-bust cycle and enacted tough austerity measures.
With 99% of votes counted, Ansip's Reform Party and its conservative partner IRL had captured about half of the votes and 56 of the 101 seats in Parliament. The coalition currently controls only 50 seats. They have the option of inviting the centrist Social Democrats, which dropped out of the government in 2009, but Ansip said: "My first instinct is to continue with the current coalition."
IRL leader Mart Laar agreed. "Given the trust from the voters it looks likely that the current coalition will continue," Laar told Estonian public broadcaster ETV.
The main opposition Centre Party won 26 seats and the Social Democrats won 19 seats, according to the preliminary results. Two smaller parties missed the 5% threshold and will have to leave Parliament. Voter turnout was 63%.
After years of roaring growth, a bursting property bubble and the financial meltdown combined to cripple Estonia's economy. Output plunged a staggering 14% in 2009, leaving one in five workers without a job.
Fuelled by strong exports, growth returned and unemployment dropped, but at 14% it's still among the highest in the European Union.
Ansip's government pulled through the downturn without needing an international bailout, unlike neighbouring Latvia. It cut salaries for public workers and raised some taxes to bring down the deficit - now among the lowest in the 27-nation EU.
That helped Estonia join the eurozone on January 1, which was seen as a boost for the government, even though it occurred in the midst of a European debt crisis.