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Center Party believes exodus of members now largely over

Jüri Ratas and Yana Toom at the Center's election night party in Tallinn on March 5, 2023.
Jüri Ratas and Yana Toom at the Center's election night party in Tallinn on March 5, 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The tense relations between certain members of the Center Party have not been resolved and could become even more tense ahead of the European Parliament elections. However, it is thought that the major wave of departures from the party is over for the time being.

Following recent revelations that she helped pay the legal expenses of pro-Kremlin activists expelled from Estonia, MEP Yana Toom has faced criticism from her main rival in the upcoming European Parliament elections Jüri Ratas. Ratas also admitted that Center cannot be considered a united team and the members who have departed so far are mainly Estonian-speaking.

"These leavers have been significant for the party and they are mainly from the Estonian-speaking membership, which is also reflected in our current support ratings, when we talk about the support of Estonian-speaking voters. It is not a question of different camps, but it shows how confidently the Center Party is perceived in the Estonian politics of tomorrow. Of course, there may still be some more leavers," Ratas said.

However, Ratas added that he has no plans to leave the party at the moment. "A lot of people, including myself, are asking the question of whether the party will be credible in Estonian politics tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. However, if you ask me whether I am leaving today or whether I am planning to leave, then I am not leaving at the moment."

According to Yana Toom, the group of dissenters within the party is small. "We have this problem that there is a group - quite small, I would say, but it exists - that somehow cannot adapt to the decision of the party congress that was taken in September."

Toom does not think there will be any  more major departures from the Center Party in the near future. "I believe there has already been a major wave [of departures], so there shouldn't be such a big exodus, because we are all professionals and everyone understands that no one wants these defections, let's be honest," she said.

Urmas Jaagant, a political journalist for Estonian daily news outlet Eesti Ekspress, says that tensions in the Center Party have remained at the same level since the election of a new leader.

"At the moment, at least in public, there is no sign that things have become any more tense. The camps are the same as they were when the new chair was elected. What makes the situation a bit strange is that what Yana Toom has done [she] has been doing for a long time, and she has made no big secret of it. It has been written about in the media before, but at that time it did not bother those who now consider it to be morally unacceptable," said Jaagant.

Current Center Party Chair Mihhail Kõlvart has so far refrained from taking a position regarding the confrontation between Ratas and Toom. Kõlvart was not available on Wednesday to provide a comment to ETV show "Aktuaalne kaamera."

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Editor: Michael Cole

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