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Center Party has too few MPs to fill all Riigikogu committee posts

The XV Riigikogu returned to work Monday after its Christmas break, with Center down six MPs.
The XV Riigikogu returned to work Monday after its Christmas break, with Center down six MPs. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Center Party has lost so many MPs now that it cannot fill posts on all the Riigikogu standing committees, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday.

AK reports that Center finds the finance, social affairs and economic affairs committees to be priorities.

The Riigikogu returned to work Monday to a changed main hall, with the half-a-dozen MPs who left Center last Friday seated elsewhere.

The seven remaining MPs are to elect a chief whip and deputy chief whip – since the MP holding the first of these positions, Tanel Kiik, is among the departures.

The Riigikogu has 10 standing committees, meaning Center does not have enough MPs to be represented on all of them (MPs may not double up in respect of many committees).

Andrei Korobeinik, one of the party's remaining MPs and who quit Reform for Center back in 2019, told AK that the finance committee, the economic affairs committee and the social affairs committee were priorities, while the rules of procedure require the party to have a representative on the EU affairs committee.

"We just can't get away from that. But inevitably, some committees will be left without [Center] members. But that doesn't mean that we won't be dealing with all those bills that are on the agenda at those committees," Korobeinik said.

Andrei Korobeinik had been deputy chief whip up to now but told AK he has no designs on becoming chief whip and heading up the Center faction at the Riigikogu.

While the status of Jüri Ratas, Center's former leader, is unclear – he is currently a sitting MP but may, Korobeinik said, leave the party in due course, there will be no further departures, Korobeinik said.

Raimond Kaljulaid, who crossed the floor from the Center Party to the Social Democrats (SDE) in 2019, ostensibly over Center's entering into coalition with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), told AK that Center will find it hard to get by t in the Riigikogu with a seven-member group, adding that it will have to make choices about which issues to deal with.

"There simply won't be the human resources to deal with it," Kaljulaid said, putting the bare minimum seats needed to adequately function in the work of the legislature at 10.

Reform's chief whip, Erkki Keldo, said the development will weaken the opposition – four of the ex-Center MPs are joining SDE, which is in coalition – and that the party needs to think about its future; right now it looks largely a Tallinn-centric set-up even at the Riigikogu (Center has long been the dominant party in the capital, and is still the senior coalition party there, while Tallinn's mayor, Mihhail Kõlvart, became party leader last September – the very development which prompted the recent exodus).

The Riigikogu hosts 11 standing committees and three select committees.

Jüri Ratas meanwhile told AK he needs to meet his remaining party-mates before deciding what to do next, but reiterated his earlier statement that he would not run for Center at the June European election if the party's sole sitting MEP, Yana Toom, runs also.

Ratas added that he would like to run himself, and that if this meant doing so as an independent, that would not be ruled out at this point.

Ratas had said late last year that Toom was unfit to seek re-election to the European Parliament, where she has held a seat for coming up to a decade, after providing legal aid to several pro-Russian activists, some of whom have been deported from Estonia.

Center won 26 seats at the 2019 Riigikogu election. This figure had fallen to 16 at the March 2023 election, while three MPs left (to Isamaa and Reform) in the wake of Mihhail Kõlvart being elected party chair in September, followed by last week's six MPs. Four of this latter group are joining SDE, the other two will not be joining any party as things stand.

The change has altered the makeup of the Riigikogu and the relative numerical position of coalition and opposition MPs.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Anne Raiste.

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