Aas: Apparent peace in Center Party is over

Taavi Aas (Center).
Taavi Aas (Center). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Leading Center Party members Taavi Aas, and Tanel Kiik, both of whom are former government ministers, support the call for an extraordinary party congress. According to Aas, if one does not take place, the current tensions within the party will continue.

"After the last congress, when the congress rejected the proposal to hold an extraordinary congress, we hoped that the situation had calmed down. [It] seemed that the congress had had its say and the leadership would follow it. Yesterday showed that that was not the case. One side wants to pursue its will to the full. We are clearly in a new situation. The apparent peace that existed is now clearly over," Aas said.

According to Aas, the problem is primarily with the party's board. "The only solution can be for the congress to decide on the composition of a new board," he added.

ERR asked Aas whether the election of a new chair during the extraordinary congress could also lead to some members leaving the party. "I would like to hope that this will not happen and that we can come together going forward. But, time will tell," Aas replied.

Aas was unable to say who might run against Mihhail Kõlvart at the extraordinary congress. "As far as Jüri Ratas is concerned, here are his decisions. It's up to the people who are running," Aas said.

Kiik: If Ratas does not run for chair, I am prepared to do so

Tanel Kiik said, that he would be prepared to run for the role of party chair, provided he is not up against Jüri Ratas. "Of course, a party congress is definitely not a magic wand that solves all our problems, but at the moment it is clear that the party leadership cannot go ahead without one," said Tanel Kiik.

Kiik also acknowledged, that the power struggle within the party has been going on since the last party council meeting in April. "After the last council meeting, a large number of party members had hoped that the council's decision would now be respected and that the party would carry on until next year's annual congress without all the fussing and bickering," Kiik said.

"Unfortunately [it's been going on for the last few months], and then the final straw was yesterday's decision by the party executive, which was not a vote on whether a particular donation was suitable for the party, but a show of force," said Kiik.

Kiik said that if he did not have to run against Jüri Ratas, he would be prepared to take on the responsibility of party chair. "I have served as a minister in two different governments, I have been vice-chair of the party, I have been one of the top two candidates in the elections for the party leadership, and I have also served in the Riigikogu and previously in the Tallinn City government. I have 15 years of political and party experience. I am undoubtedly ready to take on more responsibility if needed," said Kiik.

Mäggi: Center Party needs change

Public relations manager Janek Mäggi, who knows the inner workings of the Center party well, said it is time for a change. In his view, given Center's poor performance in the recent Riigikogu elections, and the fact that changes of personnel often help organizations to develop, that could be the best way forward.

Mihhail Kõlvart becoming the new leader of the party could have a positive effect, Mäggi said. Then again, Ratas continuing would not necessarily have a negative impact. "I think a change of leadership always seems a bit unexpected. We don't see anything tragic about this, the important thing is that the whole collective can achieve something together as a team," he said.

According to Mäggi, the party's executive making decisions based on ballots, rather than consensus is not sustainable going forward. "You still need a certain consensus and common goals, so if Jüri Ratas has not been able to agree that with the other side, it is a bad story," he said.

Janek Mäggi was previously Estonian Minister of Public Administration in Jüri Ratas' 2018 government. He ran for the 2023 Riigikogu elections, picking up 127 votes in the Hiiu, Lääne and Saaremaa electoral district, which was below the amount required to be elected.

Entrepreneur Parvel Pruunsild donated a total of €1 million to the three opposition parties. However, following a vote, the Center Party's executive board decided on Thursday to return the €300,000 given to them.

According to Center deputy chair Mihhail Kõlvart, accepting the donation would have been a bad move for the party.

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. The move meant that Ratas ought to continue as party leader until at least until the summer of 2024, when the next regular congress is scheduled.

The tensions first arose following the disappointing 2023 Riigikogu election results, which saw Center lose 10 of its 26 seats in the Estonian parliament and remain in the opposition.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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