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Estonian parliament rejects Reform's Kallas as PM

FILE PHOTO: Reform Party Chairwoman, Kaja Kallas, attends the opening session of newly elected Estonian Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

TALLINN (Reuters) - Estonia’s parliament rejected the leader of the centre-right Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, as prime minister on Monday and the president was expected instead to tap Centre Party head Juri Ratas to lead the Baltic country.

Kallas, whose party won the largest number of seats in a March 3 parliamentary election but fell short of a majority, won 45 votes in Monday’s vote. She had needed 51 votes to become Estonia’s first female prime minister and form a government.

Former prime minister Ratas had blocked Reform’s path to power by agreeing a coalition between his left-leaning Centre, the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE group, giving the three parties a majority in parliament.

“The values we built this country on are under threat,” Kallas told reporters after the vote.

President Kersti Kaljulaid has to nominate a new candidate for prime minister within seven days. The president is currently abroad and is only expected back in Estonia on Friday.

Earlier this month Ratas, who served as prime minister from late 2016, agreed a three-party coalition including EKRE, whose fiercely anti-immigrant message helped it win 19 seats in the March election, more than double its previous tally.

Ratas had said during the campaign he would not do a deal with EKRE. The far-right party will secure the finance, interior, environment, rural affairs and foreign trade portfolios if the coalition wins parliamentary approval.

In the election, Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, Centre got 26 seats - though one member has already quit the party - Fatherland 12 and the Social Democrats 10.

Reporting by Tarmo Virki; editing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Gareth Jones