Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas told ERR on Sunday that, with the exception of former longtime chairman Edgar Savisaar, members running outside of the party's list in this fall's local elections will be kicked out of the party.
"The Center Party council is of the opinion, and what we recommend to our chapters and leadership, is that in order to move forward, fulfill our program and retain the trust of our voters and fellow party members, those running against the party cannot remain in the Center Party," read a statement from the party council. "The party must accept a difficult but fair decision to exclude them from party membership."
The statement noted that while Edgar Savisaar himself has always been resolutely opposed to election coalitions and those running against the party, and has strongly criticized such behavior, his services in the building up of the Estonian state as well as the Center Party, as one of its founding members, will be honored and his remaining in the party is understandable.
Ratas told ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" that Center Party voters, supporters and members want to see party members running in the Center Party's own list.
"The Center Party will be running with only one list in these elections," said the party chairman. "Everyone who runs in other lists has unfortunately chosen to go another road and has turned their back on our election platform, stances and voters."
He noted that it was true, that an exception has been made for Savisaar. "He was a founding member of the party, and was its longtime chairman — he will not be kicked out by the party," he confirmed.
Asked whether the remaining candidates in question will be kicked out of the party, Ratas replied, "Yes, I believe that the others' roads will be diverging from that of the Center Party."
The Center Party has a total of over 500 candidates running in the local elections in the capital city of Tallinn alone, and will be running in the local polls in 74 local governments.
In the most recent local elections, the Center Party earned 200,000 votes across Estonia. Compared to 2013, big changes have taken place in the party, but Secretary General Mihhail Korb believes that a repeat of these figures will be possible this October.
Ivanova not planning on leaving party
MP Olga Ivanova, a member of the Center Party leadership who will be running in the Savisaar Election Coalition and Active Tallinn (Savisaare Valimisliit ja Tegus Tallinn), also referred to as the Savisaar-Sõõrumaa coalition, told ERR's radio news that she considers the party council's decision a guideline.
"This is like a guideline — that I bring my resignation letter from the party to tomorrow's meeting of the leadership," she said. "I do not plan to do so, as [the council's statement] affects not only me, but many people who are part of our election coalition while remaining members of the Center Party."
Ivanova intends to participate in Monday's meeting of the Center Party leadership, and as far as she knows, there are no items on the agenda related to party personnel.
She pointed out to "Aktuaalne kaamera" that she is the only MP on the list of members to be kicked out of the Center Party.
Ivanova felt that the party council wanted to pressure party members running in the Savisaar Election Alliance and Active Tallinn coalition to leave the latter, but noted that precedent exists for a Center Party member running on a competing list and remaining a member of the party.
"I definitely see no reason why these good people who chose to support the Savisaar Election Alliance should have to leave the party due to their candidacy," she said.
"As regards me and my work in the Riigikogu, this brings under question whether I will then leave the Center Party parliamentary group or remain in the Center Party parliamentary group — what the Center Party is envisioning," added the MP.
Korb announced this week that the party's leadership would soon discuss the matter of Lasnamäe chapter chair Ivanova's continuing membership in the Center Party.
As of the end of August, not one chapter had submitted an application to exclude a member of the party from the Center Party due to their candidacy in another election coalition.
Korb confirmed, however, that if any such proposals are received, party leadership will certainly discuss them. "I believe that when the lists have been submitted on Sept. 5, the picture will be much clearer to everyone," he said on Aug. 29.
Regarding the possibility of getting kicked out of the party, Ivanova has noted that this could be complicated in her case, as she is a member of the party's leadership.
"As a member of the leadership, I am protected insofar as the matter must thereafter be put to a vote at a party congress," the MP told weekly Eesti Ekspress in an interview published on Wednesday. "But, well, I guess I'll be kicked out then too."
Editor: Aili Vahtla