Mihhail Kõlvart, who is aiming to become the new leader of the Center Party, says that the biggest problem the party has faced in recent years has been the contradictory signals it has given out to voters. Kõlvart highlighted promises made by the party that it would not enter into a coalition with EKRE, only for it to later do so, for instance.
In an interview with ERR's radio news on Monday, Kõlvart said, that the best time for the Center Party to hold an extraordinary congress would have been immediately after the Riigikogu elections.
"The best time, given the current situation, was to hold it immediately after the Riigikogu elections. To draw conclusions regarding whether the current party leadership could renew its mandate or there should be a new leader and new members of the leadership group. And then we would not need to be discussing these issues again now. Now, a few months after the decision of the council, we are back in the same place. So, again we are talking about an extraordinary congress. This kind of wavering is the worst thing for the party."
Kõlvart went on to say, that, in order to move forward, the Center Party first has to accept that it is now in the midst of a crisis.
"First of all, the party has to come out of the crisis. I think we have to recognize that we are in a crisis situation. Of course, there must also be bigger goals ahead. But in a situation where we are in third place in the ratings, to talk about fighting for first place is perhaps a little premature," Kõlvart said.
He added, that one of the major problems for the party in recent years has been a mismatch between the messages it has communicated and its actions in reality.
"One of the big problems for us over the last four years has been precisely these contradictory signals. Things, which were not understood by our voters and by the average member of the Center Party. When we went into coalition with EKRE, nobody has actually forgotten that we promised we would not do that. And it is not just a question of whether or not you can form a coalition with one party or another. The point is rather, that once a promise has been made, it has to be kept. You must not lie to people."
"And, unfortunately, the next move - our coalition with the Reform Party - was not very clear to voters either. Because we had talked about the fact that it was not very comfortable to form a coalition with EKRE, but that the aim was for the Reform Party to not be in power. And then after that we went into coalition with the Reform Party. Then we fell out of that coalition, because we were not able to clearly formulate for ourselves what our role was and whether we still want to be in the coalition. We were both in the coalition and in opposition at the same time."
Asked whether he would consider entering into a coalition with EKRE now, Kõlvart said, that with four years to go until the next Riigikogu elections, such discussions are purely speculative at this stage.
"What we need now is a debate with EKRE on substantive issues, not a debate on who goes with who."
Kõlvart was then asked which issues he believes the party ought to focus on as it moves forward.
"Before we try to find new voters, we have to secure our current position. So that our current voters can understand why they are choosing the Center Party. And maybe that's the main problem now," he replied.
However, Kõlvart did single out regional policy as one key area, which has seen less focus in recent times, but he believes requires more attention.
"This does not only mean that more money must be given to municipalities. That, of course! But it is primarily about what the future of Estonian municipalities is in the bigger picture," he explained.
"In reality, our services are not standardized. We are not able to describe what specifically the local governments have to provide for people, at what level, and what needs to be done so that people do not all move to the City of Tallinn," Kõlvart said.
Discussing his rival for the leadership position, Tanel Kiik, Kõlvart said that regardless of who ends up landing the role, he is confident they can work together to make the party stronger.
"I hope that Tanel and I will be able to offer the party a meaningful debate and regardless of who wins, we will show that we can work together. This is what the Center Party should achieve. I have already said, that regardless of who becomes chair of the party, I want to continue in the party and also support the party. And I'm sure Tanel thinks the same. And if we can provide this meaningful debate to the party, then at some point everyone will see that even though there are differences of opinion in the party, we are also able to be together."
Finally, Kõlvart was asked whether Center Party would accept a €300,000 donation from BigBank owner Parvel Pruunsild if Kõlvart were party leader.
"I realize that this is supposed to be a bit of a humorous question," Kõlvart said.
"If the question is, that if I become chair of the party in August and the money is transferred in September, then it would be very strange if the party accepted it."
Editor: Michael Cole
Source: ERR Radio News, interviewer Madis Hindre.