Center Party decides against holding extraordinary congress this summer

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Mihhail Kõlvart and Jüri Ratas at the Center Party's 19th party congress in Tartu on Saturday. August 13, 2022.
Mihhail Kõlvart and Jüri Ratas at the Center Party's 19th party congress in Tartu on Saturday. August 13, 2022. Source: Grete Huik

The council of the Center Party voted against holding an extraordinary congress a year early at its council meeting on Saturday after party leader Jüri Ratas told the council that he has decided not to run for reelection should it be held. The result was close, with 75 votes cast against holding an extraordinary election and 74 in favor.

The council of the opposition Center Party decided on Saturday not to hold an extraordinary congress, chairman and board elections this summer. The party's regular congress is scheduled for the summer of 2024.

The vote was extremely close, with 75 council delegates voting against holding an extraordinary congress and 74 voting in favor. The party said that a total of 150 ballots were handed out.

This means that Jüri Ratas will stay in charge of the party at least until next summer.

Convening an extraordinary congress was proposed by the party's board in March but requires input from the council. The congress would have followed Center's poor showing at the 2023 parliamentary elections that saw it lose ten mandates compared to four years ago.

Ratas puts council over a barrel

Ratas reminded council members of their responsibility in a speech he gave before the vote. "The part of our statutes according to which the party council has the power to convene an extraordinary party congress is more than a mere sentence. It's meaning is what counts. We are all professional politicians here today, thinking about the party, the future of Estonia and our principles. We face three choices. First, there will not be an extraordinary congress. Second, there will be one and it will see the current chairman run. Finally, there will be a congress, while the chairman will not seek reelection there."

"My dear fellow Centrists, I can remove one of those options. I have promised to make my decision here today. And I will. I have decided. I will not run for party chairman at the extraordinary congress," Ratas then revealed.

Ratas hinted that convening an extraordinary congress would amount to wasting precious time. "We must tackle what is most important for the people of Estonia today: tax hikes and coping. While we are debating whether to have an extraordinary congress and keeping our focus on that."

The Center leader said that while only Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart has unveiled plans to run for chairman at this time, he believes there are other suitable candidates.

He mentioned Center board member and former minister Jaak Aab, MEP Yana Toom and MP Jaanus Karilaid who also serve as deputy chairmen.

Mihhail Kõlvart listening to Ratas announcing he will not run for chairman at an extraordinary congress on April 15, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Ratas defends 2019 decision to join EKRE in coalition

In his speech, Ratas also defended his much-criticized decision to join the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) in a coalition following the 2019 elections.

"It is very easy to say that we should not join certain coalitions because a part of our voters do not like their ideas or nature. However, that is a good way to remained benched for good. While it can give you a temporarily high rating, it is virtually useless," the Center leader shared.

Ratas also listed things his government achieved, including allocating extra funding for healthcare and introducing what he described as a more progressive and fairer [income] tax system in 2018 (Estonia's so-called tax hump or gradual basic exemption system –  ed.). "Just as we have always fought for the well-being of the elderly, both in the opposition and the coalition. I would emphasize that no other party has been willing or able to deliver so many extraordinary pension hikes."

"The only reason why we have managed to bring the people of Estonia an extra €500 million for healthcare, free public transport, a fairer tax system, benefits and support is our willingness to work with all parliamentary parties," he emphasized.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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