MEP Yana Toom, deputy chair of Center, said on ERR's "Esimene studio" program that the party has reached a point where more and more people are joining since the election of its new leader. She said that the allegations about the party's Russification were made during leadership re-election two months ago and are not just.
After Mihhail Kõlvart was elected leader of the Center Party two months ago, several hundred people left the party, but this is nothing extraordinary, Toom said, adding that the party still has 13,000 members.
"In less than two months, we have come to power in three municipalities. The process of people joining us rather than leaving the party has been restored as well," she said.
Toom said she is sorry to see each and every one of them go and that she is not happy about Jaanus Karilaid's departure either, but she was especially sad to see Taavi Aas go.
"People leaving is still an unfortunate situation. However, I wish Taavi Aas success from the bottom of my heart. I have great respect for him. I started working in Tallinn City Hall during his term as mayor, and he taught me a lot. I really regret his leaving the party. As for the others, the choice is made; I would rather thank those who stayed," she said.
Why many who left the party chose national-conservative Isamaa as their new home, Toom could not explain.
"That's a good question; if I had to look for a (new) party, the one with the closest DNA is undoubtedly the [centre-left] SDE, not Isamaa," Toom said. "How much can Isamaa stretch, how many more former Center members could fit in? When Jaanus (Karilaid) left, I thought he would join EKRE; but it's such a family business, not many survive there, except perhaps (Jaak) Madison," she said.
Toom said that statements by former party leader Jüri Ratas, who said that the party's biggest problem now was appealing to Estonian-speaking voters because of the party's so-called Russification, were definitely not true.
"The lion's share of our party members are Estonians, and I don't remember Ratas as a party leader making any distinction between Estonians and Russians in the party," she said, adding that this polemic came up during the leadership re-election period a few months ago.
Toom said she was confident that the party's rating, which according to polls has also fallen below that of the Social Democrats, would recover.
"The rating will rise again," she said, "Who would have expected that the Reform Party would lose its position at the top? Inter-election ratings are not that important," Toom added.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Kristina Kersa
Source: "Esimene stuudio" interviewed by Mirko Ojakivi