Around 40 people have left the Center Party in the wake of the election of Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart as new party leader last Sunday.
Commercial registry figures reveal that whereas on Sunday evening the Center Party had 13,154 members on its list, as of Friday morning, that figure stood at 13,113, ie. a net loss of 41.
Among high-profile leavers are Jaan Õunapuu, former Tartu mayor and a former regional affairs minister – who had been a Center member since 2018 – and Andra Veidemann, a former Center Party leader.
Ahead of Sunday's congress in which Kõlvart defeated former minister Tanel Kiik in the run-off vote – no other candidates had come forward after Jüri Ratas announced in the spring that he would not seek re-election after his term ended – several leading Center members stated that they would quit the party if the Tallinn mayor became leader.
While these figures did not explicitly state their reasons for so doing, one factor may be fears over a polarization of Center members into "Estonian" and "Russian" camps. Center had traditionally drawn much support from the Russian-speaking population of Estonia, but in recent years this support base had dwindled.
The party's former Riigikogu chief whip, Jaanus Karilaid, had similarly pledged to leave the party if Kõlvart was elected, though once that became an actuality, said that he would wait until the dust settled.
Tanel Kiik was in effect the protege of Jüri Ratas and had started his political career as an advisor to Ratas when he was prime minister; Ratas in turn was protege of party co-founder Edgar Savisaar (1950-2022).
The total figure of approximately 40 leavers should not be taken as a final tally; leaving aside those who may leave in the near future, those who applied to leave via a paper rather than digital application may not have yet been counted.
Kõlvart himself has said that while people leaving Center is a cause of sadness for him, he is keen to move forward and to unify the membership.
Kõlvart picked up 543 votes to Kiik's 489 at Sunday's party congress, held in Paide.
Editor: Andrew Whyte