The exodus from the Center Party may not have dried up, at least if new leader Mihhail Kõlvart does not maintain the party's current line and makes too much of a course correction, the party's Riigikogu whip Tanel Kiik says.
Kiik, who was runner up in the Center Party leadership vote held in Paide the Sunday before last, said that he has met with many party colleagues since that time, adding that several have expressed concern over the party's future.
Kiik said Friday that: "There are those patiently observing what will happen, next, but there are also those who feel that the messages from these first weeks which have appeared at some points in the media, to be honest, in an unsuccessful form, reinforce a false image of the party."
"They give the impression that the party has decided on some kind of change of tack, which I think the majority of congress delegates did not ever support, and nor do the majority of the party rank and file," he added.
Nonetheless, Kiik continued: "Perhaps we must make a very concerted effort to maintain the current Center Party line, but if this proves not possible, then the number of people leaving will undoubtedly snowball."
Kiik also contextualized the saga against the backdrop of the planned transition to Estonian-only education, the entry ban on private vehicles bearing Russian license plates, Center MP Andrei Korobeinik's apology on a Russian TV channel about that event, and the disputes in Narva, including those concerning the renaming of city streets.
"In a situation where the party's public image is under a particularly strong microscope, both outside the party and inside it, these messages were a bit too much for just the one week, so I really hope that we can learn from this in the coming weeks," Kiik added
Kiik said that Kõlvart should make every effort to avoid Center becoming an exclusively Tallinn-centric, or Tallinn- and Ida-Viru County-centric, party, and should remain a party for all of Estonia.
Kiik put the number of people who have already left Center at around 100 over the past couple of weeks. While this is only a small proportion of a membership in the thousands, several high profile members are among the overall number, including two sitting Riigikogu members: Jaanus Karilaid and Tõnis Mölder.
ERR News understands that Mihhail Kõlvart is in Seoul, South Korea, at present, and will be able to talk more on the situation next week, after he has returned.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Huko Aaspõllu