The Center Party's poor performance in the Riigikogu elections was a result of being caught between two extremes and failing to present its views forcefully enough, said party chair and Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart. Kõlvart told ERR's Russian-language news site "Direct from the Newsroom," that during the last six months, after Center fell out of the government, not only slogans but also legislative initiatives "aimed at banning, expelling and punishing" began to appear.
"As long as we were in government, we did not let them pass," Kõlvart stressed.
"Immediately after we left [the government], all these things appeared, which gave the signal that local Russians were not just a problem for society – it has also been common practice in our society to talk about this and provide these kinds of signals in the past - but that local Russians were a threat. And this was not just about slogans and rhetoric, but concrete legislative initiatives - to ban, to change, to punish," he said.
According to Kõlvart, this created an environment in which people not only felt uncomfortable, but also felt that society disapproved of them and considered them a threat.
"Naturally, in this kind of a situation, people start to look for someone to blame, and the Center Party is partly to blame for this, because we fell out of the coalition. We did oppose these initiatives as members of the opposition, but it seems to me that a lot of people were expecting a much sharper, more prominent stance and firm emotions," Kõlvart said.
"When people are given a strong negative emotion, they want a strong counterweight. And they found that from other political organizations," he said.
Kõlvart went on to discuss the electoral success of the United Left Party (EÜVP) and the members of the Koos/Vmeste coalition, who ran in Ida-Viru County.
According to Kõlvart it was not only the Koos/Vmeste movement that made some strong statements, but the Reform Party too. In his view, Reform's success largely thanks to this.
"The feeling was created, that only they could defend the country from external threats. In doing so, they also created the backdrop of an internal threat to the state and pointed the finger at the source of that threat, which would threaten society if the (Center) party came to power," he said.
Because, in difficult times, when the world is facing an increasing number of threats, people take these kinds of signals very seriously. Those putting out strong messages won more popular support, Kõlvart explained.
"The other side of the coin is, that the very people who were made into enemies also expect strong signals. Regardless of whether they are destructive and unconvincing, people will still vote for them," Kõlvart said.
"And the Center Party ended up falling between these two extremes. That's not to say that the Center Party is to blame, but that's just how it was," he said.
"I'm not one for making strong statements, but sometimes you have to speak up," Kõlvart added.
"The main problem, in my opinion, is that the Center Party failed to convey to its voters in a precise and understandable way what our ideology is and for whom and what (we are acting)," he said.
According to Kõlvart, the ideology of the Center Party is based on the premise that all citizens, regardless of their social class, nationality and even citizenship, are guaranteed equal treatment and equal opportunities under the law.
"Secondly, I believe that the role of the Center Party is to be a bridge between different social groups, to try to find compromises and common ground. The Center Party has taken on this role, but as for how well it fulfils it, how well it can articulate it and, most importantly, is able to convince people of it, then a lot of questions remain," he said.
According to Kõlvart, politicians not only have to be able react quickly to situations, but also formulate positions themselves. "It was not good," he said.
Asked where the blame lies for the party's poor election result, Kõlvart said that the chair cannot be the only one considered responsible. "It is not just the leader who can be held responsible, but the entire leadership. It would be a misguided approach to identify a culprit, replace them and then hope that everything will change. What is needed is really serious structural change, and that needs to be addressed. It has to be recognized that change is needed.
The Center Party won 16 seats in the March 5 Riigikogu elections, ten fewer than in 2019. This is the worst electoral result for the party since 1995.
Editor: Michael Cole