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Ratas: Center Party leadership is split

Jüri ratas and Mihhail Kõlvart.
Jüri ratas and Mihhail Kõlvart. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Jüri Ratas, leader of the Centre Party, said the rejection of the €300,000 donation from entrepreneur Parvel Pruunsild at Mihhail Kõlvart's suggestion demonstrates a power struggle and is ultimately detrimental to the party. Ratas said the Center Party would discuss the possibility of convening an extraordinary congress again on Friday.

"The council rejected my proposal to strengthen the party with this contribution. The money will be returned on Mihhail Kõlvart's request, by a vote of 9 to 7," Ratas wrote in a letter to party colleagues.

The board votes were distributed as follows: Kõlvart was supported by Lauri Laats, Siret Kotka, Mihkel Undrest, Jaan Toots, Yana Toom, Valentina Bortnovski, Andrei Korobeinik and Vladimir Svet. Ratas was supported by Tanel Kiik, Jaanus Karilaid, Jaak Aab, Taavi Aas, Enn Eesmaa and Tõnis Molder.

Vadim Belobrovtsev was absent from the board, but given his lengthy history of collaborating with Kõlvart on the same city administration team, one might have expected him to be among the mayor's supporters. Perhaps, Kõlvart's faction holds a 10-7 majority on the board.

Ratas said that the board's arguments for returning the money were not convincing.

"We contacted the individual who made the donation; he said it was a general contribution in support of the Center Party's long-standing population and family policy. This is a businessman who has backed practically all parliamentary parties, and has recently backed those who advocate for the retention of family benefits," Ratas went on to say.

Ratas proposed to the party's leadership accepting the donation, initiating the process of a supplementary budget for the party, using the donation to improve the party's operations, and repaying the Riigikogu elections' commitments.

"The decision to return the donation is, in my opinion, the result of a power conflict, which is detrimental to the party. It demonstrates that the party leadership is fractured, and as party chair, it is my responsibility to do everything possible to preserve the party's unity. Therefore, I request that the party's leadership, parliamentary group, regional leaderships, and members of the party's council convene an extraordinary meeting on July 7 at 16:00 to debate the future of the party," Ratas told his colleagues.

"The party has been placed in a precarious situation. Clearly, this hinders the party's day-to-day operations. In any case, the party's council voted unanimously against convening an extraordinary congress this summer [to elect a new leader]. And I assumed that my fellow party members interpreted this as a signal. Nevertheless, the fire or flame is still blazing and has not died out and this does not augur well for Estonia's largest and longest-running party," Ratas said.

Ratas did not want to be specific regarding the message he would deliver at the party meeting, but he said it would be clear. "Before informing the media, I would like to discuss this with my colleagues." When asked if the issue would be the convening of an extraordinary congress and if he supported it, he replied, "That's what we will discuss tomorrow, whether we should or not."

The entrepreneur Parvel Pruunsild donated a total of €1 million to three opposition parties; however, the Center Party's executive decided on Thursday, following a vote, to return €300,000.

Tensions between supporters of Ratas and Kõlvart peaked in April, when the Center Party's council voted against convening an extraordinary congress at which a new leader would have been elected. This indicates that Ratas should continue to serve as leader of the Center Party at least until the summer of 2024, when the next ordinary congress is scheduled.

The election results, in which the party lost 10 seats and remained in the opposition with 16 seats, were predominantly responsible for tensions within the Center Party.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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