Reactions to Kõlvart win: Center's Russian course, conservatism reinforced

Mihhail Kõlvart at the Center Party's extraordinary congress in Paide on Sunday. September 10, 2023.
Mihhail Kõlvart at the Center Party's extraordinary congress in Paide on Sunday. September 10, 2023. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Commenting on Mihhail Kõlvart's election win at the Center Party's extraordinary congress on Sunday, Isamaa, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Social Democratic Party (SDE) leaders deemed it likely that the Center Party will strengthen its positions among Estonia's Russian-speaking voters as well as shift to conservative values.

Reinsalu: Russian party has been established in Estonia

Speaking to ERR on Monday, Isamaa chair Urmas Reinsalu said that with Kõlvart's ascent to the head of the Center Party, a Russian party has been established in Estonia.

"I believe a clearly defined Russian party has been established in Estonia, if I look at Kõlvart's policies, what he's previously implemented as mayor as well as what the city government has done under Kõlvart's direction, which in my opinion has is still against pro-Estonian policy," Reinsalu said. "So in that way this will change Estonian politics."

The Isamaa leader also said that he doesn't believe that tensions in the Center Party have vanished with Kõlvart's election.

"Those conflicts remain," he said. "That victory was clearly very narrow. Representatives of the other camp took an illustrative share of the board as well. And I don't think this is merely a question of power; rather, I believe that even for the so-called more pro-Estonian part of the Center Party, how to move forward and how things will move forward still pose a fundamental conflict of values. So I predict we've only seen the first chapter, not the last, in this saga."

Helme: Kõlvart win will stave off expansion of liberal front

EKRE chair Martin Helme said that Kõlvart's victory on Sunday stopped Center from becoming more liberal, while also opening up broader opportunities for cooperation between the two parties.

"I fully agree with the fact that [Kõlvart's opponent] Tanel Kiik would have been a continuation of [preceding party chair] Jüri Ratas, and that's why he was so overwhelmingly voted down — that wasn't a close congress; Tanel was categorically voted down," Helme said.

"And for me, this congress' clearest message was the fact that members of the Center Party rejected the so-called Ratas liberal route," he continued. "And that is also a very clear ideological choice. So the Center Party, I believe, will become more conservative regarding various matters as a result, from e-elections through homo-issues, for example. And the expansion of the liberal front via the Center Party was canceled."

The EKRE chair is certain Kõlvart's election as Center Party chair will change Estonia's political landscape. Nonetheless, he added that it's important to consider what political line Kõlvart is going to actually start pursuing, as his worldview isn't well known.

"But compared with Tanel Kiik, he surely doesn't have that sort of active liberalism in him," Helme said. "But where he'll position himself — let me put it this way, Kõlvart is by nature an outsider in Estonian politics, which means that he'll certainly be less picky when choosing coalition partners."

Ossinovski: He may draw votes away from Russian extremists

SDE whip Jevgeni Ossinovski said that a Kõlvart-led Center Party may seek to restore its diminished influence among Estonia's Russian-speaking voters, but he also emphasized his positive cooperation with the newly-elected party chair.

"No doubt the issues that are important to Kõlvart and his electorate are likely to be a bit more prominent," Ossinovski said Monday. "He himself has said that he's more conservative in values, but I think it's a bit too early to make predictions at the moment. I suppose they themselves believe that as a result of this decision, the Center Party, for example, will be more successful in fighting against the so-called Russian extremist party too, should the latter still survive — that Mr. [Aivar] Peterson bunch Koos."

The SDE MP emphasized his very good cooperation with Kõlvart in Tallinn as well.

"Our coalition is working very well, and to that end I do believe he has the skills to lead a cohesive team well," he acknowledged.

"His primary objective will certainly be to manage to keep his party together," Ossinovski said, recalling that so many ugly words were exchanged between party members during the course of this campaign as well as in public. "And that choice was likewise in some ways rather fundamental in their own opinion. So of course the question now is how — how will he manage to get the whole party to work."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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