The Center Party board decided on Sunday to name party chairman Edgar Savisaar as the party's candidate for the prime ministerial post during the March 2015 parliamentary elections, instead of MP Kadri Simson.
Board member Jüri Ratas, who first mentioned Simson as a possible frontrunner at the next elections, told uudised.err.ee that Simson has always maintained that if Savisaar wishes to run, she will not contest his decision.
“Chairman Savisaar said he has the strength, will, energy and belief to lead the party to government,” Ratas said.
Savisaar will need the backing of a party congress in January to make his candidacy official.
The Center Party has been losing MPs and MEPs since the last elections to other parliamentary factions, and Ratas and Simson could also leave due to internal struggles. Those who have quit the party cite a cooperative agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, which they deem as too close for comfort, and the rigidness of Savisaar's leadership.
The party turned 23 on Sunday, and Savisaar has been the chairman for the entire period, minus a few months between 1995 and 1996.
No surprise for the other three parties
The other three parliamentary factions said the naming of Savisaar by the party leadership to run for prime minister did not come as a surprise.
“Until they abandon the current leadership style and values, nothing will change,” IRL secretary general Tiit Riisalo said, adding that until wide changes in Center's platform occur, it does not matter who leads the party.
Riisalo's Reform Party counterpart Martin Kukk said 87 percent of the party's electorate are not ethnic Estonians and the Russian wing of the party supported Savisaar. Indrek Saar of the Social Democrats said the Center Party missed a chance to make gains in the polls.
“Speaking as a rival, I am happy, but looking at the political landscape of Estonia, I am sad,” Saar said.