The Center Party reelected incumbent Jüri Ratas as party chairman at the 19th party congress held in Tartu on Saturday, defeating challenger and Tartu chapter chair Jaan Toots 470 votes to 201.
In all, 673 ballots were submitted in Saturday's vote, two of which were invalid.
Of 34 candidates, the following 14 were elected to the Center Party board: Mihhail Kõlvart (409 votes), Tanel Kiik (380), Jaak Aab (379), Lauri Laats (338), Jaanus Karilaid (235), Jaan Toots (235), Vladimir Svet (216), Taavi Aas (215), Vadim Belobrovtsev (199), Yana Toom (195), Siret Kotka (171), Andrei Korobeinik (165), Enn Eesmaa (160) and Mihkel Undrest (140).
Toots, Korobeinik and Undrest are all newly elected to the board. Previous members not to be reelected include Mailis Reps (125 votes), Eha Võrk (88) and Marika-Tuus Laul (didn't run).
Serving on the Center Party board in addition to the 14 members elected Saturday are party council chair Tõnis Mölder and Centre Party Youth chair Kristi Rüütel.
Ratas appointed Kõlvart, Kiik, Karilaid and Toom deputy chairs of the party.
Also elected Saturday were Kalle Klandorf as chair of the Center Party's honor court and Kalle Jõks, Andres Kollist, Jüri Ennet, Marko Šorin, Olev Raju, Eevi Paasmäe and Svetlana Astahhova to the party's audit committee.
Ratas: Average monthly pension needs to increase to €1,000
In a speech delivered at the Center Party congress ahead of the elections on Saturday, incumbent party chair Jüri Ratas, who was running for reelection, said that in order for the elderly in Estonia to get by, the average monthly old-age pension must be increased to €1,000 within the next election cycle — and equal at least 40 percent of the average Estonian wage going forward.
"Extraordinary pension increases must continue, and I find that we must increase pensions by not €20 but at least €50, on top of indexation," Ratas said.
He also said that Estonia's tax system needs to be modernized as well, including by implementing a luxury tax. "I feel it's right for us to continue standing for the implementation of a progressive tax system, in which wealthier people's contributions toward building a more cohesive state are bigger," he said. "We also need to take initiative more boldly than before in discussing luxury taxes, which would enable the state to contribute more to solving significant areas of concern."
Addressing the approaching Riigikogu elections, which will take place next March, Ratas said that due to the party's bad financial situation, the campaign budget for the 2023 elections will be limited to that of the 2021 local elections — when the Center Party spent about €900,000 on campaigning.
Toots: Electricity needs to be cheaper here than in Finland
Center Party Tartu chapter chair Jaan Toots, ran against Ratas for the party's top spot, said in his speech that the Center Party must be rebuilt, and its ideology reformulated.
The Center Party needs a new approach, he said, noting that he believed that the party had made two significant mistakes in the previous two governments.
"In the span of two years, the Center Party has broken up one government and voluntarily given up the prime minister's seat, which I believe was unwarranted and a huge mistake," he said. "We ended up in the opposition due to being kicked out of the second government, as a result of which we can no longer participate as a coalition partner in the governing of Estonia. This was an even bigger mistake."
The chapter chair said that the Center Party cannot currently stand for the interests of its voters, which is each political party's primary responsibility as well as the point of the existence thereof. "We need to get back to the government's table," he stressed. "To do so, we need to make changes to the way this party is run."
Among other changes, the party must be prepared to make bold decisions as well, such as withdrawing from the Nord Pool electricity market.
"Elekter cannot be a luxury good," Toots said. "We need to take concrete steps to make cheap, Estonian-produced electricity accessible to Estonians again. We need to withdraw from the electricity market immediately, and make use of domestic energy sources. The price of electricity in Estonia has to be at least one cent cheaper than in Latvia or Finland."
The candidate for party chair believes the Center Party's finances need to be revamped as well.
"A situation in which there is no money to run in elections and advertise candidates despite us receiving very considerable [financial] support from the state budget alone is unsustainable," Toots said. "I believe I have opportunities and ideas for how to get the party's finances in order and stay competitive with other political parties."
Editor: Aili Vahtla