Around 40 people have left the Estonian Centre Party (Keskerakond) after the election of Tallinn mayor Mihhail Kõlvart as the party’s new chairman, ERR reports. The number of resignations may increase later. The Centre Party has over 13,000 registered members. The high-profile people who have left the party include former Tartu mayor and minister Jaan Õunapuu and former party leader Andra Veidemann. The former chairman of the Centre Party’s parliamentary group, Jaanus Karilaid, joined the national-conservative opposition party, Fatherland (Isamaa). He had been a Centre Party member since 1997.
There are fears that Kõlvart’s election may split the Centre Party into “Estonian” and “Russian” camps. Fatherland chairman Urmas Reinsalu stated that the Centre Party was now a “Russian party.” Meanwhile, Jevgeni Ossinovski, head of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (SDE), expected Kõlvart to restore the Centre Party’s influence among Estonia’s Russian-speaking voters and thus reduce support for the “extremist” Together (Koos) party. Also, Martin Helme, chairman of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), saw an opportunity for more cooperation with the Centre Party.