Center Party preparing for internal leadership battle
Estonia's largest party, the Center Party, is set to face intense internal elections in a month, with long-serving chairman Edgar Savisaar challenged by Kadri Simson, the head of the party's faction in Parliament. A number of party regional offices have already weighed in on the race.
The party congress will take place in Tallinn on November 29, with 1,092 delegates set to decide the fate of the party. Savisaar is a founding member, and chairman since the establishment of the party in 1991 until now, with a five-month hiatus in 1995-1996.
Of the delegates, 92 are founding members, 25 are youth wing members and the rest, numbering 975, will be divided up between party regional offices with roughly one delegate for each 15 party members. For example, if a regional office has 525 members, it will send 35 delegates.
The party has 27 regional offices, with many already making their preference public. Pärnu, Narva and Rapla offices have backed Simson, although Narva also backed Savisaar. Tartu County and a number of Tallinn offices have backed Savisaar.
Political scientist Tõnis Saarts said whichever candidate is able to win over the large districts, will win. He said it is hard to make predictions, as so far, only a few districts have revealed their preference.
Saarts said either side could yet register another candidate, to divide the opponent's votes.
Former Center Party heavyweight, and current Reform Party member Ain Seppik told Eesti Päevaleht the party could be facing a civil war. “I do not believe the party will split, but it will change somehow. I believe a civil war will break out as Edgar Savisaar has no plans to drop his weapons,” he said.
Tallinn Mayor Savisaar is likely to court the party's ethnic-Russian supporters, while Simson has the backing of Pärnu. She is likely to say that Savisaar, who has had serious health problems this year, should retire.