Expert: Ratas, Toots not on equal footing as Center leadership candidates

Jüri Ratas (left) and Jaan Toots are due to run against each other in the election to the Center Party chairmanship, later this month.
Jüri Ratas (left) and Jaan Toots are due to run against each other in the election to the Center Party chairmanship, later this month. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The opposition Center Party is set to hold elections to chairman in a few weeks' time, and for the first time since 2016, two candidates are in the running and have been nominated: Current incumbent and former prime minister, Jüri Ratas, and Jaan Toots.

Political scientist Erik Moora told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that while competition between two candidates has a beneficial effect on the party, as it focuses minds and plays out tensions festering within the party, the candidates are not on an equal footing.

Moora said: "If the opponent [to Ratas] were a serious candidate, I would say that the tension within the party would be really reaching its climax, but Jaan Toots is, first and foremost, still a political lightweight.

"He was given the leadership of the Tartu branch, which was followed by great internal quarrels, tensions, in turn followed by the dropping out from the Tartu city coalition, immediately followed by essentially losing the elections there," he went on.

"Historically, the Center Party has not been very weak [in Tartu], but they were the last of the parties to get in office. All this means that Jaan Toots cannot be considered the kind of candidate who could overthrow Jüri Ratas," Moora, who writes for investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress, continued.

Toots himself has said that he would bring almost half of Center's delegates with him, adding that bringing more young people into the fold is important.

He said: "I'm concerned about young people joining us; just 40 young people have joined in Tartu over four years – a city which is actually in terms of youth, a Reform Party and Eesti 200 city."

Reform holds the mayoral position in Urmas Klaas and has long dominated in Estonia's second city; Eesti 200 won its first ever seats at last October's local election and is looking to pick up its first Riigikogu seats at the general election next March.

"Consequently, we know how to work with them, we know how to evaluate them. This is In fact, a big mistake for the Center Party - that we have a small number of young people," Toots went on.

Jüri Ratas, who has been party leader since November 2016, was prime minister across two administrations, November 2016-January 2021 and is current Riigikogu speaker, as well as a former Tallinn mayor, says that Center members value his experience.

"The main point is that the members of the party know me. I have been in the party, as I said, for over 20 years, at local government level in the city of Tallinn, at the state level, within the party's youth council, and on the board. The party members know me and I have been quite diligent meeting with people all over Estonia. Thus, I have presented positions and opinions on how to bring the Center Party to electoral victory in the Riigikogu elections in 2023. One thing is certain, that we are once again the only alternative to the Reform Party in Estonian politics today," Ratas told AK.

Center had 26 Riigkogu seats compared with Reform's 34, in the XIV Riigikogu.

The forthcoming congress will also see 14 board members being elected out of a field of 34 candidates, party secretary general Andre Hanimägi says.

The meeting is to take place in Tartu on August 13.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

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