Edgar Savisaar beat main rival Kadri Simson in the party leadership election on Sunday evening. Savisaar won the vote of 541 delegates, to Simson's 486, from a total of 1,051.
Savisaar is the founder of the Center Party and has been the chairman since its foundation in 1991, minus a 6-months-period in mid-90s.
“I want to thank you for continuing to trust me, that we were able to deal with this congress together,” he said.
Simson said she is disappointed with such a narrow loss, adding that she will continue in the party.
Jüri Ratas, the last person to challenge Savisaar, and a supporter of Simson, said the progress of the party in the next two years will depend on Savisaar's work to unite the party.
The congress began with six candidates for the top job, but Yana Toom and Oudekki Loone stepped back and pledged their support for Savisaar while Mihhail Stalnuhhin and Toomas Vitsut did the same for Simson.
The party also refreshed the board, with 14 people voted into the party's leadership board. Simson will continue on the board as she is the party faction head in the Parliament and receives her seat on the board automatically. The party chairman and the head of the youth wing both receive automatic seats on the board as well.
Of the 14 who were elected, there are three new faces in Mihhail Kõlvart, Olga Ivanova and Jaak Aab. Marika Tuus-Laul and Arvo Sarapuu will not continue on the board.
Before the vote
Savisaar said, in a speech before the vote, that party members should nit break up the party. He said Simson would not lead the party in to government. “If some among us believe that with Edgar, everything will stay as it is and with them, a rejuvenation will begin, it is actually the other way. I think some weaker members want to go and serve the Reform Party and extend their direction. I instead, want stand for a new Estonia,” Savisaar said.
“The Center Party needs a leader who the majority of the population back. Not one official, who most of the Estonian people do not believe and after whom the party will disintegrate,” he said.
Savisaar said all other Parliament parties are weak with the Reform Party weak internally, the Social Democrats are again right-leaning, IRL failed to rejuvenate, the Free Party has no ideology and EKRE has failed to make the migrant crisis his topic, Savisaar added.
Speaking about foreign politics, Savisaar said sanctions against Russia are hurting Estonia, not Russia, and that sanctions could be dropped due to the West's cooperation in the Middle East.
In her speech, Simson said development of Estonia has come to a halt and reforms pushed through by the Center Party are disappearing. She said it is high time to return to government, adding that Savisaar himself is not interested in the position.
She said if Estonia's best supported party does not want power then it is not doing enough for its voters.
“The current situation benefits Taavi Rõivas the most as the Reform Party is feeling comfortable,” she said.
PR expert Janek Mäggi said Savisaar picked a election campaign of constant publicity.
Tallinn TV supervisory board head Allan Alaküla said that during the campaign a media balance was in place between national media and Tallinn city media. “The majority of the media, who have usually been against the Center Party or at least unfriendly, was behind the dark forces,” he said.
Alaküla said media outlets which are usually pro-Center Party or at least not unfriendly, backed Savisaar.
Tallinn TV is a Tallinn city funded media organization. Opposition forces in Center Party-led Tallinn have said the organization is just a mouthpiece for the Center Party.
Political analyst Andreas Kaju said Savisaar's campaign might not have seemed very logical, but his unwavering will to win was central. “Power is not given, it is taken and Savisaar will not allow that power to be taken under any circumstances. It is all that he is,” Kaju said.
Editor: J.M. Laats