Center Party MP and former government minister Tanel Kiik says he believes he has the required background to be able to obtain the support of the party and to be able to lead it, an eventuality he says he was prepared for as early as the aftermath of the March general election.
Following Center's showing at the March 5 election, where the party lost 10 Riigikogu seats, its incumbent chair, Jüri Ratas, came under pressure to step down, with Mihhail Kõlvart emerging as a potential challenger.
While Ratas initially staved off that challenge, it reared its head again last week; Ratas, prime minister 2016-2021, Riigikogu speaker 2021-2023 and currently deputy Riigikogu speaker, threw the towel in publicly at the end of last week.
He has also put his support behind Tanel Kiik, who was to all intents and purposes his protege in any case, should Kiik decide to run as leader.
"My understanding and vision is such that, certainly after the party congress, the Center Party must continue united and strong, while we will not have 'redundant' members," Kiik told ERR's radio news Monday.
"The fact is that we are a versatile party, with various differing positions. We have the ability stand up for the well-being of the people of Estonia precisely in these key issues, such as socioeconomic issues, and I think we can do so better if we move forward together, not by taking someone to court or putting pressure on a party member in one way or another other way to leave or, on the contrary, to take join."
Kiik stated that it was "probably" the case that his worldview is more liberal in character than that of challenger Mihhail Kõlvart, the current mayor of Tallinn.
"I have never kept it a secret that, so far as my views go, I am socially liberal - not a political liberal, but I stand for social values such as a fair, solidarity-based society, be it in relation to the health care system, to social benefits, to the support of pensioners, children, families. But from the point of view of human rights, media freedoms and such issues, of course I am a liberal."
He also said that his views as a whole coincided with those of the bulk of Center supporters and members, regardless of where in the country they are from – or even what language they spoke (the party historically drew a significant proportion of its support from the Russian-speaking community in Estonia; Kiik said in the interview that he could speak Russian to an extent and could obtain help where needed; in any case there was no language barrier, he added).
Kiik also highlighted the importance of seeking younger voters, supporters and members, including via the use of social media and with the right to cast an e-vote in mind.
Kiik also brought out his experience – as party vice chair over two terms, a government minister in two administrations, and, before that, the prime minister's [Jüri Ratas) chef de cabinet (he has also served as a Tallinn deputy mayor-ed.).
As to a recent controversy to have hit the party, a €300,000 donation from BigBank owner Parvel Pruunsild which the party voted to return, following a Kõlvart proposal do do just that Kiik said he saw "no reason why the political party should return such donations," insofar as he can judge from the information available to him.
"There would have been room for discussion here. But unfortunately the majority of the board decided differently and now we have to act in this situation," he added.
The decision to return the €300,000 was done ostensibly in an effort to distance Center from the other two parties it was in a fairly fraught coalition with 2019-2021, namely Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE). Pruunsild, who has been Isamaa's most significant single donor in recent years, also donated a similar sum to that party and to EKRE, both of whom have accepted.
Center has also been historically dogged by corruption charges, the most recent of which led to its being fined €800,000, which in turn required some serious belt-tightening ahead of the 2023 election - to the detriment of its scope for campaigning.
When the proposed party congress will take place is not yet known, he added, meaning at the moment things are theoretical.
"Talks about different factions in the party should be stopped. One must be active and open in communication both with those who supported one's election as chairman and with those who did not. And try to find common ground and a common road map with which to move forward. The fact that within the Center Party, there have always been more liberal and conservative people, people from the middle of Tallinn and from the rural areas, members and voters with different mother tongues, this has always been the strength of the party," he went on.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov
Source: ERR Radio News, interviewer Madis Hindre.