Center Party on brink of implosion

  • 2004-04-22
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - A new round of infighting in the Center Party erupted this week when a letter - signed by 27 prominent party members and addressed to fellow party members - was issued, claiming the party faced a crisis and was in desperate need of a leadership change.

The letter, leaked to Estonian newspapers on April 20, was signed by prominent party members - including eight MPs and one member of the Tallinn City Council.
It decried the party's poor ability to cooperate with other political forces, claiming that this keeps members from participating in formulating policy on the national level.
The letter also stated that the Center Party has been unable to choose a working partner among other political factions, and that instead it has focused on looking for opponents.
"The Center Party is experiencing a crisis. The party management is centralized and chairman-oriented. The party council has turned into a room of empty chat that has influence neither on the party board nor on the parliamentary faction nor on actual policy," reads the letter.
According to the latest polls, the Center Party is Estonia's most popular political party, supported by 19 percent of the population. Edgar Savisaar, its chairman and mayor of Tallinn, has been the most popular politician in the country judging by the results of the last local and general elections.
And although the Centrists won the last general elections, it was their rivals - Res Publica, the Reform Party and the People's Union - who ultimately formed the ruling coalition.
Yet all the popularity has proven ineffective in creating unanimity within the party.
The pro-EU minded wing of the Centrists, headed by MPs Sven Mikser, Peeter Kreitzberg and others, helped trigger the first major fault line in the party last August when they openly criticized the party's decision not to support EU accession.
The leaked letter also states that rank-and-file members of the Center Party are increasingly alienated from the party leadership and that the party needs a radical change in management.
Savisaar and several from the Centrists who support him said they had not read the letter and declined to comment until they do so.
Savisaar, however, told reporters on April 20 that he had been trying to stay out of intra-party clashes.
Those who had a chance to read the letter were skeptical. Center Party MPs Kullo Arjakas and Ain Seppik called it emotional and criticized it for not offering a concrete alternative.
Other Center Party members were unavailable for comment.
The letter was the second written address from the party's pro-EU faction to their fellow members. Earlier this April seven Center Party MPs withdrew themselves from the party's electoral list prepared for the European Parliament elections.
Liina Tonisson and Robert Lepikson, two of the MPs who signed both the letters, were expelled from the party by regional branches for spoiling the party's image.
These decisions have yet to be confirmed by the party's board.
Kreitzberg, also an MP, said he was ready to leave the party should the party board approve the removal of Tonisson and Lepikson.
Savisaar is also facing pressure from Parliament over his recent visit to Moscow during which he reportedly had several tete-a-tetes with top Russian officials.
Parliament's foreign affairs committee asked the Tallinn mayor to present a report and answer MP's questions regarding the trip since no workers of Estonia's Embassy in Russia were present at the meetings.
According to reports, Savisaar met Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian Duma and one of the key figures in the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
Savisaar, who is known to keep a tight grip on Center Party affairs along with his wife, said in an interview with the national ETV channel that the Center Party would sign an agreement with the United Russia party this spring to form a joint commission that will discuss economic issues related to oil, gas and railways.
At the Res Publica conference dedicated to the European Parliament election, Prime Minister Juhan Parts criticized Savisaar for "looking to the East."
Among current political parties, the Reform Party holds the record for having spent 65 months in the ruling coalition in various periods since 1991. Pro Patria Union is second with 63 months followed by the People's Union with 60 months and Social Democrats (former Moderates) with 58 months.
The Centrists, on the other hand, have been in government for 21 months.