source: 5:35-Thomson Reuters
* Roivas' Reform Party takes lead in voting
* Worries about Russia, minimum wages dominate campaign
(Updates with two thirds of results counted)
By David Mardiste
TALLINN, March 1 (Reuters) - Estonia's ruling centre-right
party took the lead after an election on Sunday overshadowed by
fears that neighbouring Russia might interfere in the small
Baltic State after annexing Ukraine's Crimea region last year.
The Reform Party of Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, the senior
partner in a current two-party coalition, had 29.2 percent with
more than two-thirds of the votes counted against 28.6 percent
it won in the last parliamentary election in 2011.
The opposition Centre Party, which favours closer ties with
Moscow to ensure security for Estonia, was second on 21.0
percent against 23.3 percent in 2011. Many Centre Party
strongholds will report later on Sunday, making the final result
A free-marketeer and the youngest European Union leader at
35, Roivas is likely to be best placed to form a new coalition,
even if the Centre Party ends up winning the most votes. Polls
before the election had put the two roughly neck and neck.
Other big parties say they will not work with the Centre
Party, which signed a 2004 cooperation deal with Russian
President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party.
"Cooperation after the elections with the Estonian Centre
Party would be very difficult for any of the other parties,"
Roivas told Reuters before the vote.
The Centre Party says other parties may drop opposition to
cooperating after Sunday's vote in the northernmost Baltic state
of 1.3 million people, where about a quarter are Russian
Other parties accuse Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar, the
mayor of Tallinn who was an interim prime minister from 1991-92,
of failing to condemn Putin's actions in Ukraine.
They also say his party has misused public funds in Tallinn,
a charge his Tallinn city controlled government denies.
The Centre Party, which gets about 70 percent of the
Russian-speaking vote, wants better ties with Moscow to
guarantee security for the Baltic State that was part of the
Soviet Union until independence in 1991.
It also says it wants to help the poor, by raising minimum
wages to 1,000 euros ($1,120) a month from 390.
It is unclear if the assassination of Russian opposition
politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on Friday, by an unknown
attacker, could affect the vote.
Under Reform-led coalition governments, Estonia has been one
of few NATO members to keep defence spending at a NATO goal of 2
percent of gross domestic product.
Estonia, a euro zone member since 2011, has the lowest
public sector debt in the EU. Parties differ sharply over wages
and tax policy.
(Writing by David Mardiste and Alister Doyle; Editing by
((firstname.lastname@example.org; +47 4683 74 83;))
Keywords: ESTONIA ELECTION/