Estonia's Kallas is reelected to lead party despite a scandal over husband's Russia business ties

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Estonia’s ruling Reform Party reelected Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as its chairperson Saturday and confirmed her staying on as the Baltic nation's leader amid widespread calls by opposition and voters for her to resign over a scandal involving her husband's business dealings in Russia.

Kallas was the only candidate for the party leadership post as center-right Reform held a general meeting in the capital, Tallinn. Two-thirds of the 931 delegates who took part in a vote supported her and one-third abstained.

The 46-year-old lawyer has been the leader of the Reform Party, Estonia’s largest political group, since April 2018. She became the country's first female prime minister in January 2021.

Earlier this week, Kallas publicly signaled at a foreign policy conference in Washington her interest in becoming the next secretary-general of NATO. NATO’s current chief, Jens Stoltenberg, is due to step down in October 2024 after 10 years in the post.

Kallas, the daughter of former Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas, has been one of the most vocal European backers of Ukraine and a fierce critic of Russia within the European Union and NATO. Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people, is a member of both the EU and NATO.

Under her leadership, the Reform Party scored an overwhelming victory in Estonia's March general election. Russia's war in Ukraine emerged as a major theme in election campaigning, which political observers said helped her substantially to win a new term as prime minister.

However, her domestic popularity - and political credibility - crashed in August after Estonian media reported that her husband had remained a shareholder in a transportation company which continued operating in Russia following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Kallas had previously called for companies in Estonia to cease their operations in Russia.

During parliamentary committee hearings, she denied knowing the details of her husband’s business activities in Russia. She has refused to resign despite urging to do so from President Alar Karis. Over two-thirds of Estonians surveyed in recent opinion polls said they thought Kallas should step down.