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Kõlvart: Party has not given members reason to leave

Center Party leader Mihhail Kõlvart said at a press conference Thursday that potential leavers are playing the nationality card against him and that the past three months have seen no development to give people reason to quit. But the chairman added he will try to talk potential leavers out of it.

Kõlvart said that Center's chairman election campaign seems to be continuing (despite the fact he was elected in September – ed.).

"The tension created before the party congress was maintained after it ended. We agreed before the September 10 congress that whichever decision would need to unite us, and that we would move forward together once it was made. I was always prepared to do that. I told Tanel Kiik before the congress that I will not run for the board or get in your way, while I am prepared to take part in debates where you'll have me. I have no desire to cause tension, I will not be leaving the party. But what happened was that I won the election. That is what the Center Party decided. The members decided to elect Mihhail Kõlvart.

The politician said that the sides hurt one another in the runup to the congress and there were personal attacks. "It was a rather dirty campaign. I was hurt too. It is a great shame members of the party weaponized that which has been used against us so often in the past – the nationality issue," Kõlvart said.

The mayor emphasized that the nationality-based conflict at Center is artificial. "The party's message has and always will be solidarity. Center has always carried the message of social solidarity," he said.

'Apparently I'm not Estonian enough'

"The main criticism has been that I'm not really Estonian or Estonian enough. The media has attempted to paint the same picture. The past three months have seen no developments in the Center Party to give people reason to quit. There have been no deliberations to betray an ideological shift," he said.

Kõlvart admitted that a lot of people have left Center but that the situation is stabilizing.

He said that the message people are trying to send is that Center has no future. "This is not true," the mayor said, adding that Center has weathered many crises and will pull through.

The party chairman said that he learned of the plans of Tanel Kiik and some other members to switch parties back in December. "It saddens me that he is leaving, but it is his decision," Kõlvart said of Kiik.

He emphasized that the people whose main motivation is the party itself will remain. "It is no great tragedy when a person who is pursuing a career in politics decides he is better off in another party. But it is not the end of the Center Party."

Kõlvart prepared to talk to leavers again

The Center leader said he is prepared to talk again to people considering quitting the party. He added that rumors according to which there were plans to remove Kiik as chief whip are baseless.

Regarding the recent behavior of former Center head Jüri Ratas, Kõlvart said that Ratas does not want to pursue constructive cooperation with the board. "I have met with him on several occasions to discuss these matters."

Both Ratas and Tanel Kiik have criticized Kõlvart for failure to express a clear position on Center MEP Yana Toom's efforts to financially support an activist who was expelled from Estonia for activity against the state.

Kõlvart said that there is nothing new about that situation and that Ratas' position matched his own only a short time ago.

He said that such matters are for the courts to decide in the conditions of rule of law and that every person must be able to defend their rights. But Kõlvart also remarked that the Center Party condemns anti-state activity.

Center's chief whip in the Riigikogu Tanel Kiik told ERR Thursday that he is considering leaving the Center Party and joining the Social Democratic Party (SDE). ERR's information suggests Jaak Aab and several other Center MPs are considering leaving the opposition party behind, which was confirmed in an interview by Jüri Ratas.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski

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