Priit Toobal, the secretary general of Estonia's opposition Center Party who was criminally convicted of both unauthorized surveillance as well as having falsified documents in his role as a public official in 2014, has announced in a letter to his fellow party members that he has decided to step down from his position in the party and leave politics altogether.
According to party spokespeople, Toobal was quoted on Monday night as saying, “I have decided to step down from the position of secretary general of the Center Party, and will hereby also be leaving politics and public life.” He added that he had already discussed his decision with party chairman Edgar Savisaar.
In his statement, as quoted by Center Party Press Secretary Taavi Pukk, Toobal explained that he needed a change and a slower pace of life, and that he was tired of constant media attention and scandal. Toobal also included his side of his alleged persecution and noted that he would not be providing any further comments on the subject.
Center Party Press Secretary Taavi Pukk told BNS that the new secretary general may not be elected at the party’s next governing board meeting on May 20. “The statutes state that the secretary general is appointed by the board on the proposal of the party chairman,” explained Pukk. “I cannot say whether that will happen at the next board meeting — this all depends on Savisaar.”
According to the party’s Deputy Chairman Jaanus Karilaid, party development manager Urmo Saareoja would fill in as the Center Party’s acting secretary general until the party’s next governing board meeting on Friday, May 20. Karilaid noted that in order to be elected to the position, any candidate for the replacement of Toobal as secretary general needed the support of at least nine of the current 17 members of the party’s governing board.
Toobal's problems in the Riigikogu
The Center Party’s decision in late March to appoint its criminally convicted party secretary general Priit Toobal as their representative to the Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing (ERJK) sparked harsh criticism from many sides, being called a “bad joke” by Amnesty International as well as prompting the parliamentary groups of five of the six political parties currently represented in the Riigikogu — with the exception of that of Toobal’s own Center Party — to jointly introduce a bill in early April to amend the Political Parties Act, banning anyone criminally convicted by the courts from being appointed to the ERJK.
The committee took the matter into its own hands as the Riigikogu continued to debate the bill, however, adopting changes to its rules of procedure to ban criminally sentenced persons from committee meetings, a move criticized by Toobal himself as being unlawful.
The party’s former secretary general appealed the change in the committee’s rules of procedure, insisting that he was elected to the position pursuant to current law and thus eagerly awaiting the ERJK’s first session after his commission began on April 28.
Despite promises to the contrary, Toobal did not show up at the committee’s first meeting after the Tallinn Administrative Court rejected his application for interim measures against the supervisory committee’s attempts to block his participation at committee meetings, as the courts found that the Center Party’s alternate committee member Tõnis Mölder could participate in ERJK meetings in his stead.
According to ERJK Deputy Chairman Kaarel Tarand, “The administrative court also found that the committee’s rules of procedure hold, and the rules of procedure state that criminally punished individuals are banned from participating in community meetings and work, which means that [Toobal] has no business here.”
In his letter to his fellow party members, Toobal did not say for certain that he would not someday return. “Only time will tell for just how long I will be leaving and if I will ever come back — definitely not in the near future,” noted Toobal, adding that he mainly sought privacy at the moment.
Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik