Kõlvart favors more conservative Center Party; Kiik would stay more liberal

Center Party chair candidates Tanel Kiik and Mihhail Kõlvart appeared on ERR's
Center Party chair candidates Tanel Kiik and Mihhail Kõlvart appeared on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" on Thursday. July 20, 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In a live appearance together on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" on Thursday, Center Party chair candidates Tanel Kiik and Mihhail Kõlvart highlighted the difference between them — if elected, Kõlvart would steer the party in a more conservative, Kiik in a more liberal direction.

"I believe a strong party maintaining a social — I'd rather say liberal, reasonable balance is exactly what Estonia needs," said Kiik, the current party whip in the Riigikogu.

"Meaning not the kind of outright liberalism being cultivated by the Reform Party, and certainly not the right-wing tax policy supported by the majority of parliamentary political parties," he continued, "But precisely the kind of power that respects human rights, that respects people's freedoms, but also stands strong for people's welfare, social values, the elderly and the more vulnerable."

According to Kiik, the Center Party has stood for such values since its founding.

"And I believe that it's precisely this type of social liberal view — a party that protects and supports the people of Estonia and seeks common ground in a positive way — that Estonia needs," he continued. "And the Center Party under my leadership would embody this."

Kõlvart, currently the mayor of Tallinn, acknowledged in turn that he is more conservative in his views than Kiik. He noted that, unlike himself, Kiik is in favor of marriage equality.

"That is correct, that I perhaps have a more conservative worldview," he confirmed. "Under the current circumstances, despite the fact that our party is officially centrist liberal, I believe that in order to maintain balance in society, we should be going in a more conservative direction. Because maintaining balance and being in the middle doesn't always mean that we don't have a position. In a situation where we're seeing that society is leaning, I believe, too far toward liberalism, it's sometimes necessary for balance to formulate these more conservative positions more explicitly."

He also said that it's no problem if differing views exist within the Center Party on some issues, because if it's possible to unite them within the party, that proves that it's possible to achieve the same type of balance in society as well.

"It's a very difficult mission — sometimes impossible — but someone has to carry this mission in society," Kõlvart said.

He added that society is currently demanding "black and white answers and positions, and this has to be taken into account too."

Kõlvart specifically emphasized the need to provide clear messages. "Regardless of stage of development, every party needs clear messages," he stressed. "You can't always be giving vague responses — sometimes you have to state very specifically what our worldview is, what our choices are."

The capital city's mayor also explained that he was against legalizing same-sex marriage, as this involves baseline values tied to the stages of history, traditions and the development of civilization.

"The marriage equality issue was much more profound than merely a legal issue," he said. "This was historical; it was a matter of traditions, a matter of baseline values, a matter of people's perceptions, and it certainly wasn't right to pass it like that. In my opinion."

Kõlvart was also critical of the Center Party's behavior in the Estonian government, where it worked together with both the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) as well as the Reform Party, adding that he couldn't understand why Center quit its coalition with the latter.

Disagreed on debate

The two candidates for the Center Party's top spot also differed when it came to whether more serious debates involving the party itself should be kept within the party or not.

"I think the most critical debates and speeches tend to take place rather within the party," Kiik said. "In the public eye, you have to take into account that it's in both our interests that the Center Party benefits from this change of leadership and that these gaps are bridged within the party. If we have more serious criticism for one another, then we'll address that among ourselves, not via ERR or other channels."

Kõlvart, however, believes that the Center Party's current internal tensions are difficult to hide.

"But at the same time, that isn't only a problem — I believe it's also an opportunity," he said. "Taken properly advantage of — and I think Tanel and I are capable of managing this, offering substantive debate and drawing more positive attention to the party — then that's beneficial as well. At the same time, such substantive debate also provides the party with food for thought regarding how to proceed. And if all party members, all branches are involved, then it can also be turned into a unified goal, if everyone feels as though they were involved in this debate and decided."

Giving the party members this opportunity to formulate their understandings and get involved in this debate and then make a decision afterward should unify the party more, Kõlvart added.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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