Preliminary results: Estonia's gov't wins election

By Karl Ritter

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 6 2011 2:10 p.m. MST

Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip views the first results, as they are declared in his party headquarters after the parliamentary elections in Tallinn, Estonia, on Sunday, March 6, 2011. Estonia's center-right government took a commanding lead Sunday in the Baltic country's first election as a eurozone member, winning well over half of the advance ballots, which is an early indication that Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's coalition could win a second term, after piloting one of Europe's most depressed economies back to growth.

Timur Nisametdinov, NIPA, Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia's center-right government was poised to stay in power for a second term after winning a clear parliamentary majority Sunday 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 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 97 percent 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. They coalition currently controls only 50 seats.

The main opposition Center Party got 26 seats and the centrist Social Democrats won 19 seats, according to the preliminary results. Two smaller parties missed the 5 percent threshold and will have to leave Parliament.

After years of roaring growth, a bursting property bubble and the financial meltdown combined to cripple Estonia's economy. Output plunged a staggering 14 percent in 2009, leaving one in five workers without a job.

Fueled by strong exports, growth has returned and the jobless rate has dropped, but at 14 percent it's still among the highest in the European Union.

Ansip's government pulled through the downturn without needing an international bailout, unlike like neighboring 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 — and keep Estonia on track to join the eurozone.

It did that on Jan. 1, which was seen as a boost for the government, even though it occurred in the midst of a European debt crisis.

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