Jaanus Karilaid joins national-conservative Isamaa

The first sitting of the Riigikogu's 2023 fall session.
The first sitting of the Riigikogu's 2023 fall session. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The former deputy chair of the Center Party, Jaanus Karilaid, who promised before the Center Party leadership election that he would leave the party if Mihhail Kõlvart won, announced on Saturday that he had decided to join the national-conservative Isamaa.

"I have decided to join Isamaa," Karilaid wrote in his social media post.

Karilaid reiterated that the election of the new leader of the Center Party was a pivotal moment for him. "I announced it publicly before the congress; today I confirm that I stand by my decision."

Kõlvart's past actions demonstrate that he is not acting in the best interests of Estonia and that "securing the Estonian language and, more broadly, Estonianness as a space of culture and value, is not among his objectives," Karilaid explained his departure from the Center Party.

"I am deeply convinced that, in light of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Estonia doesn't need such a political movement, and I don't see how I could be a part of it," he wrote.

Many members of the Center Party are now both "in demand and confused," he went on to say. "In a difficult situation like this, you have to make a decision based on your conscience. I call on other Center Party members to decide based on their convictions."

Explaining his decision to join right-wing national-conservative Isamaa, Karilaid wrote that Estonia needs a positive alternative to the current government and that Isamaa is "a sensible choice for those who don't want to see politics as merely the violent opposition between the Reform Party and EKRE."

"I believe that, as a member of the Isamaa party, I can make a contribution both on behalf of my voters and in addressing the broader challenges facing Estonia," Karilaid said.

Political analyst Tõnis Saarts refers to Isamaa as EKRE Light, or a slightly more polite and moderate version of the Helme family's Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

Both the leader of the conservative Isamaa party, Urmas Reinsau, and the leader of the liberal coalition party Eesti 200, Lauri Hussar, have named the Center party under Kõlvart's leadership a "Russian party," which is consistent with Karilaid's claims that there is a division between the so-called Russian and Estonian wings in the party. 

Kõlvart was elected Center leader at a special party congress in Paide last Sunday, replacing Jüri Ratas. Karilaid, who was the most outspoken about the ethnicity-based division that provoked a crisis within the party, has pledged to leave if Kõlvart is elected.

Kõlvart told ERR that ethnicity-based concerns had been artificially created. "Our main priority within the party is the person, which is the greatest value in every society and country," he said in response to the contention of becoming a Russian party. "Our congress proved that people within the party, regardless of their nationality, support both Tanel Kiik and myself. Just as Tanel was supported by the Narva division of the Center Party, Tartu has supported me." Narva is a Russian-speaking city bordering Russia, whereas Tartu is considered to be the international intellectual hub of Estonia.

Karilaid: I was invited by everyone except the Reform Party

Karilaid responded that all parties had invited him to join, with the exception of the Reform Party, when ERR asked if he had received invitations from other parties.

Karilaid said that he had worked very well with the leader of Isamaa. "Center was in administration with Isamaa during Jüri Ratas' term as prime minister. I have enjoyed good cooperation with Isamaa party."

Reinsalu: Karilaid made the right decision

In a comment sent to the media, Reinsalu said that "Karilaid made the right decision, as this choice was made on the basis of inner conviction."

"I am delighted that Jaanus has joined Isamaa, and I am confident that his arrival will strengthen the Isamaa team," he said. "I am aware that this was not an easy decision to make, but there is a fortitude and resolve to it that is lacking in the politics of the current government."

Karilaid has been a member of the Center Party since May 1997 and was elected to the party's leadership in 2015. He resigned from Center on Saturday, September 16, according to the register.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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