Center Party chair and Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart says that his predecessor as leader, Jüri Ratas, had been given the option to run as the party's top candidate at next June's European elections.
Despite last week's exodus of six key Center Party MPs including former minister Tanel Kiik, who used to head up Ratas' office, Ratas himself remains a sitting Center MP as of today, Monday, the day the Riigikogu has returned from its winter holiday break.
Kõlvart added that he was ready to run too, in order to ensure Ratas won a seat (given the way in which Estonia's modified d'Hondt system of proportional representation works, plus the fact that Kõlvart could not remain Tallinn mayor and take up an MEP seat at the same time – ed.).
Speaking to portal Delfi Monday, Kõlvart said: "He (Ratas – ed.) was able to run as the top candidate."
"However, his desire was that the place was 100 percent guaranteed. And for this reason I was ready to run, too, while Yana (Toom - Center's sole MEP) was prepared to not get re-elected," he continued.
This would have both made use of Kõlvart's voter popularity in getting the party a seat, and at the same time giving that seat to Ratas, at Toom's expense.
This proposed arrangement was, the mayor says, prior to Ratas' recent statements, made public on December 29, that Toom is not fit to run for office in Europe, having providing legal aid – ie. financial support – to various pro-Kremlin activists facing legal battles, some of whom have been deported from Estonia.
Of this, Kõlvart told Delfi that: "What followed was a highly irregular competition within the party. Now he (Ratas – ed.) says that he will not run on the same list as Yana Toomi."
Estonia is treated as one single electoral district at European elections.
"Of course he doesn't run, he would then run for another political party," the mayor added.
Kõlvart said that he talked this proposal over with Yana Toom, who agreed to it in the interests of preserving harmony within the Center Party.
Kõlvart also told Delfi that so far as he is aware, Yana Toom supports Ukraine, a line confirmed by her activities at the European Parliament.
Yana Toom has been an MEP for coming up to two consecutive terms, since the 2014 election. Mihhail Kõlvart became Center leader in September, but has seen the number of Center Riigikogu MPs (as mayor, Kõlvart does not sit in the national legislature himself) nearly half, to seven, following the recent announcement, plus three other departures of MPs in the fall.
Jüri Ratas has never sat in the European Parliament. He has held the Tallinn mayor, prime minister and Riigikogu speaker positions during his political career so far. He has not stated unequivocally whether he will remain in the Center Party or not.
Editor: Andrew Whyte