Center Party deputy head Jaanus Karilaid said that Mihhail Kõlvart running for party chairman was to be expected as he has been at odds with current leader Jüri Ratas for some time.
The Center Party is set to elect its next chairman at the party's extraordinary congress scheduled for April 15.
Karilaid said there are several reasons for Center's relatively poor election showing and he welcomes the board's decision to hold an extraordinary congress.
The politician suggested that Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart may not be the only candidate. "Jüri Ratas will quite probably set up his candidacy, while Tanel Kiik, Tõnis Mölder, Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski and Jaak Aab could also offer up their visions, the list is long. We will have positive in-house competition," Karilaid said.
Karilaid described the opposition between Kõlvart and Ratas as a long-standing issue. "When Ratas was PM, Kõlvart issued critical statements via the media. The conflict in terms of how to take the party forward between these two camps has existed for a long time," he said, adding that there have been heated debates over the planned switch to universal Estonian education, removal of Soviet monuments and taking away the weapons permits of foreign nationals. "Ratas has done a masterful job bringing the two communities together," he added.
"As Center's Riigikogu whip, I have heard criticism that the Center Party is too blue, black and white and lacks empathy in its Russian [community] policy. The congress will give us the opportunity to discuss these matters more thoroughly," he said. "We did the best we could for Estonian and Russian voters, while both expected more. But you will never hear the kind of rhetoric coming from the Vmeste/Koos movement from Center."
Karilaid recalled that while Center's government with EKRE was a an excellent one, the former should have straightened up and told the latter to shut down its factious rhetoric. "Cooperation with the Reform Party did not work. Kõlvart hoped that an even more balanced Russian-policy could be possible. I do not think so," Karilaid remarked.
The new Center Party whip needs to believe in the Reform Party. "That cannot be me. Reform's fiscal, tax and loan policy – they remain our political opposites," Karilaid admitted.
"I am Ratas' man, while I am also the Center Party's man. For Center to be innovative, future-oriented and capable of maintaining balance in society. And I will make sure people do not forget the success of Center leading the government [before last]. I will hark back to the decisions made during Jüri Ratas' time and point to those that will be made under Kaja Kallas. That is my task for the coming months," Karilaid offered.
Editor: Mari Peegel, Marcus Turovski