The biggest issue currently facing the opposition Center Party right now is speaking to the country's Estonian-speaking voters – something that will also determine the sustainability of the party, Second Vice-President of the Riigikogu and former Center chair Jüri Ratas said on Wednesday.
Speaking on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast," Ratas said that discussed at Tuesday's party board meeting was the topic of members who have quit the party in recent weeks – of whom there are more than 90 in all. He acknowledged that 99 percent of them have been people with Estonian-speaking backgrounds.
According to the results of the latest poll conducted by Kantar Emor, 52 percent of the country's Russian-speaking voters and just 4 percent of Estonian-speaking voters support the Center Party.
"First of all, I will say that it's very good that there is a party in Estonia capable of speaking to Russian-speaking voters – this is the Center Party's strength," Ratas acknowledged.
"This is actually the only party in Estonia that has managed to speak to both the Russian- and Estonian-speaking population groups," he continued. "Maintaining this link between these two communities is incredibly important. A major problem for the Center Party is how we can speak to people who speak Estonian at home."
At some point that 4 percent is going to end up a major milestone for the party in terms of sustainability, he added.
"The fact that the party plays on the Estonian- and Russian-language education issue, the citizenship issue... Actually, it's issues affecting all residents that are important to the party – and those are the livelihoods of the people of Estonia, economic issues and healthcare," the former Center chair declared.
"My prime concern is that every party has to think much more broadly – that context in today's turbulent world, very difficult coping environment, economic environment," he continued. "I believe the point of the party must be how we're going to improve these situations."
Asked whether Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart – who succeeded him as Center Party chair in elections held last month – hasn't been able to handle speaking on these issues, Ratas said that it's too soon to assess Kõlvart's performance, but nonetheless there have been very worrying signs.
"The party is definitely less involved at the state level," he cited. "I think that's a problem for the party."
Those to quit the Center Party following its party congress on September 10 included Jaanus Karilaid, Tõnis Mölder, Triin Varek and Neeme Väli, all of whom thereafter joined Isamaa. Taavi Aas quit as well, although he has yet to join another party instead.
Ratas admitted that this exodus has no doubt contributed to Center's decline in ratings. He also noted that he had spoken with all of the aforementioned Center politicians regarding quitting the party.
"There were discussions regarding politics, but also the future," he recalled. "The main point of contention for people who left was this conflict of values. They were of the opinion that the Center Party can't handle maintaining these values anymore."
The former party leader nonetheless confirmed that he himself isn't planning on quitting the Center Party.
Editor: Aili Vahtla