SALK chief: Neither Kiik nor Kõlvart will take Center back above EKRE

Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK) Director Tarmo Jüristo.
Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK) Director Tarmo Jüristo. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Regardless of whether Mihhail Kõlvart or Tanel Kiik ends up becoming the new party leader, it will be very difficult the Center Party to re-establish its position as the main alternative to the Reform Party, says Director of the Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK) Tarmo Jüristo.

"The fundamental concern of the Center Party in recent years has been that they have lost their polar antipode position vis-à-vis the Reform Party to EKRE. It will be very difficult to regain this position under the new circumstances, regardless of whether it is Kiik or Kõlvart, who becomes the new party chair. It is difficult to see what the ticket could be that would enable the Center Party to regain the position they held for decades. EKRE has firmly claimed that position," Jüristo explained on ETV show "Vikerhommik" this Monday.

The think tank chief said, that he does not believe a third candidate for the party leadership would  now emerge in addition to Kiik and Kõlvart, adding that the race between the two is very close.

"The fact that Kõlvart challenged Ratas shows that he has been serious about the issue for some time. Kiik started a bit later, but he has a strong aura of support from Ratas, and that counts as hard currency in the Center Party. If these elections take place and the Center Party gets a new chair in August, then I'm not sure that the power struggle will end there. At the moment, it is hard to see the election for the role of party chair being won by one or the other candidate by a large margin. Maybe it is not certain that the tensions will disappear."

According to Jüristo, the recent tensions within the Center Party have not come from nowhere.

"There is also the distinction between Estonian and Russian. On the back of the war in Ukraine and the rise of EKRE, all this has become very important," Jüristo said.

Speaking about Parvel Pruunsild's €300,000 donation to the Center Party, which was rejected at Kõlvart's behest, Jüristo said, that he understands why some people are sensitive about these kinds of issues and want to discuss them in public.

"However, I personally have no doubt that this was the realization of an earlier agreement that Kõlvart seemed to be referring to. That there was an earlier agreement and that it could have existential consequences for the future of the party. If that were the case, it would represent a monumental act of stupidity on the part of Parvel Pruunsild. But knowing that he is under scrutiny, and knowing that the Center Party is also under scrutiny from the KAPO (Internal Security Service, ISSS – ed.) and the Prosecutor's Office, to make any kind of deal in this type of situation would be extraordinarily stupid. And I don't think that Pruunsild, or the remaining members of the Center Party, who are not yet in prison are that stupid," Jüristo said.

Jüristo suggested that Kõlvart was simply using the opportunity to take advantage of a tricky situation.

"However, the criticism that Ratas and his team decided that the donation was okay and it would be put into Center's budget and wherever else, is understandable. So, it's understandable that there was this sort of reaction. But the case itself is not as dubious as Kõlvart's camp wanted it to appear," Jüristo said.

Speaking about the future of Jüri Ratas, Jüristo suggested keeping an eye on who gets more votes in next year's European Parliament elections - Ratas or Yana Toom.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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