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Analysis: Center Party's Riigikogu group will not recover from the crisis

Jüri Ratas is still a Center Party MP at the time of writing.
Jüri Ratas is still a Center Party MP at the time of writing. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The XV Riigikogu's third session begins today, Monday, as MPs return from the Christmas and New Year recess to an altered power balance following last week's news that six members were leaving the Center Party, ERR's Uku Toom writes in his politics commentary.

While the Center Party as a whole may emerge from the current crisis, the party's Riigikogu grouping certainly will not, Toom goes on.

A year ago, the XIV Riigikogu commenced its final session (ahead of the March 2023 Riigikogu election – ed.), at which point the Center Party faction had 23 MPs, compared with the 26 it had had after the March 2019 election.

Three Center seats, or 11.5 percent of the total, had evaporated within four years.

Now, 10 months after the last Riigikogu elections, the party has just seven MPs, compared with the 16 seats it won in the March 2023 elections. Nine seats have been lost, or 56 percent of the total.

And there are still three years to go until the next election...

When Center chair Mihhail Kõlvart says the party as a whole will make it out of the current crisis, you can choose to believe it, or not to. Yet it is very difficult to see how the Riigikogu group might emerge from crisis. Center's faction has ceased to exist as a force to be taken seriously, and this effect is both qualitative and quantitative.

It's not just about the numbers, either. There have also been factions with six and seven members in the Riigikogu in the past (such as the Free Party, which held six seats at the XIII Riigikogu – ed.), but these have been united, capable and experienced teams.

However, when the Center big hitters at the Riigikogu now are, for example, Aleksei Jevgrafov or Aleksander Tšaplõgin, then, well, I don't know...

Plus how does Jüri Ratas fit into this 100-percent pro-Kõlvart lineup; the classic definition fits in this situation for Ratas "stranger at home, at home with strangers" (an Estonian aphorism – ed.).

However, this self same Ratas is the only member of the Riigikogu group who has any previous experience of Center's work.

Anton Korobeinik also has experience, but that was with the Reform Party faction (Korobeinik left Reform for Center in 2019 – ed.).

The remaining five are new faces. This makes it very difficult to say how the Center Party's faction will pan out in the future

Let us consider for instance the fact that there are 10 standing committees at the Riigikogu, where a party's voice needs to be heard, plus the EU Affairs Committee in addition.

Since Jüri Ratas is already Riigikogu deputy speaker, that leaves four of the above committees without a sitting representative from the Center Party.

Whom will the party appoint to the finance committee, where they had previously been represented by Jaak Aab and Kersti Sarapuu?

Incidentally, let's speak about that Riigikogu board. Elections for a new board composition are due in March, but it is somewhat odd to think that the smallest faction in the parliament might retain the position of deputy speaker.

This makes it fairly certain that Jüri Ratas will continue as an ordinary MP, come the end of March (Ratas is also a former Riigikogu speaker – ed.).

The Riigikogu Center Party group will also receive less in funding.

The financing of a faction's personnel comprises two parts, a base fund, and funding in proportion to the number of MPs a party has.

With the loss of nine members since September, Center's Riigikogu group will also lose more than €4,000 per month, and probably also the position of some advisers and one party group vice-chair.

This is a win for the Office of the Riigikogu, as those MPs left without a faction do not take any funding with them elsewhere (two of the departing Center MPs will sit as independents – ed.).

And finally, I don't know if the offices will be redistributed in the meantime, but the thought may arise whether a faction that has more than halved might not be able to get by with smaller office space than it had before.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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