Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, who had declared his intent to run for Center chairman at its extraordinary congress, said he was surprised by the party council's Saturday decision not to hold one this summer.
"The party, or at least its council, decided that we should stick with the status quo. It was a surprise in some ways as I feel there is demand for change in the party. But change can also be frightening, and people are free to decide they are not ready for change or do not want it. However, we needed the debate over change and a possible new leader," Kõlvart said.
Center is set to elect its new chairman at its regular congress roughly a year from now. "I cannot say whether I will run then. People had faith in me now, while I do not know whether it will still be there next year. I was talking about change inside the party – how we should have a form of communication for discussing various topics inside the party, instead of having a single person or the board in charge of decisions," Kõlvart said.
Without changes, the negative trend will persist for Center, Kõlvart said, adding that Center's waning popularity did not start at Riigikogu elections and has rather been an ongoing process for the last six years.
Center Party board member, MEP Yana Toom was also surprised by the council's decision. "By one vote... Not something we can refer to as a strong mandate," Toom said. "The situation needs to change," Toom suggested. "We need to ask the chairman how he plans to put it all back together again. Yes, I am also a member of the board, however, as such, I would like to ask the members for that mandate, because Center's election result is not Ratas' "achievement" alone. It is the "achievement" of the entire board. An over-the-barrel situation where we need to hold on for another year seems unfair. Ratas will not find running the party an easy feat," the politician remarked.
Toom revealed that seven members of the board were in favor of holding an extraordinary congress while three were opposed. What happened is a cross-section of the situation. The party is split, and we should not pretend otherwise," Toom said.
"My mandate in the board is half of what it used to be after the [previous] congress. I feel insecure and would like to have a board which the congress has elected after Center's [recent] Riigikogu elections result."
Toom said that she does not plan to resign from the board, suggesting that it would be chaos if all 16 members of the board withdrew, saddling their deputies with all the responsibility.
Ratas: I am the chairman of all Center Party members
Jüri Ratas told ERR after the council vote that it makes no difference how narrow the decision, the choice has been made. He said that his efforts will be aimed at making Center a stronger alternative to the [ruling] Reform Party. "We are the clear leader among the opposition parties. We have already entered an extraordinary pensions hike bill into Riigikogu proceedings that would see pensions hiked by €50 over four consecutive years to reach €1,000. We oppose the Reform Party's tax hikes; hiking VAT and income tax by 10 percent (from 20 percent to 22 percent – ed.) will clearly impact our purchasing power."
Ratas pledged to make efforts to engage younger voters and for Center to become more specific on environmental issues.
The Center leader said he wants to keep running the party for as long as he has the trust of members. "I am every Center member's chairman," he remarked.
The council of the Center Party on Saturday voted against convening an extraordinary party congress this summer, with the result determined by just one vote. Immediately before the vote, Center's current leader Jüri Ratas gave a speech where he said he would not run for reelection were an extraordinary congress and election called.
Editor: Marcus Turovski