Center Party member and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson says she trusts incumbent party chair Jüri Ratas, adding that there is a risk that the Center Party under newly announced challenger Mihhail Kõlvart's leadership could end up too Tallinn-centric.
Center Party chair Jüri Ratas announced plans earlier this week to propose that the party council add the convening of an extraordinary party congress to the council's April 15 meeting agenda. Both Ratas and Kõlvart, currently the mayor of Tallinn, have confirmed that they will be running for party chair.
In an appearance on ETV's "Esimene stuudio" on Thursday night, Simson said that Ratas has proven himself as party chair.
"I really do trust Jüri, because he has been tested in the most difficult of situations and he always makes the right decision for Estonia," she said. "But his moral compass is in good shape as well. In that sense I do believe that Jüri Ratas must also hand over the burden of [party] chair to the younger generation sometime, but I'm not so sure that party members will be relieving him of that heavy burden yet at this congress."
According to Simson, who will be the Center Party's next leader depends on the candidates' platforms.
If Kõlvart wants to be party chair, he should take up his seat in the recently elected XV Riigikogu, she continued, ensuring that he would represent all of Estonia, not just Tallinn's interests.
"The Center Party also has experience with having been in the opposition and our chairman not being an advocate on the national level, but rather the mayor of Tallinn, Estonia's biggest city," the former minister and MP recalled. "And right now I don't think it's an issue that Tallinn's interests aren't sufficiently represented — the Reform Party is very Tallinn Golden Ring-centric."
According to Simson, it's incredibly important that the leader of the Center Party, a major opposition party, conveys a message for the entire country.
"The mayor of Tallinn is obliged by their chain of office to speak on behalf of their townspeople," she pointed out. "So if Mihhail Kõlvart indeed really feels he wants to be a top Estonian politician, then he should accept his voters' mandate and [take up his seat in] the Riigikogu."
The Riigikogu, noted, is where the challenges and choices of Estonia's future are debated.
"There's a risk of simply being too Tallinn-centric, as that's the mayor of Tallinn's duty," Simson said. "Of course that's his duty, but the Center Party is all of Estonia's party."
Strong regional organization
The veteran Center politician highlighted that the party has a strong regional organization, and that it should go ahead with policies supportive of rural residents.
"If we think back to four years ago, when the Center Party had been in the government and made a lot of important decisions that supported residents of rural areas, I believe that, by continuing this same policy, we can help those people who have made their choice to live and work somewhere other than a hub," she said. "Estonia is such a small country that none of us are unneeded, and we shouldn't forget those people who live in Valga County or on Saaremaa, speak nothing of Pärnu County. We have a strong regional organization; I think that's something all other parties are envious of."
The Center Party lost ten seats in the 2023 Riigikogu elections, which concluded on March 5, dropping from 26 to 16 seats in Estonia's 101-seat unicameral parliament.
Editor: Aili Vahtla