For the Social Democratic Party: Eiki Nestor
Our series of candidate portraits continues with Eiki Nestor. Nestor is the Social Democratic Party’s candidate for president. He has been a long time politician and has experience in many capacities, including minister of regional affairs and minister of social affairs. He currently serves as President of the Riigikogu.
Nestor’s long and distinguished record qualifies him for president, but in a way that more fits the traditional mold of an Estonian president. This traditional mold, going back to pre-WW2 times and somewhat similar to other non-executive presidents, is more that of a father figure or elder statesman (Riigivanem) for the nation.
Such a president is supposed to be a dignified, respected example to the nation. As such, Nestor would likely be more similar to Arnold Rüütel than Toomas Hendrik Ilves. There are certainly benefits that speak for this type of a presidential candidate. Estonia would no longer have to worry about undiplomatic tweets or any other type of scandal like has happened during President Ilves’ time as president.
On the other hand, there are disadvantages to this type of president as well. In today’s world, the value of a dignified low-key president seems much lower than it was in the past. Most would argue that President Ilves’ candid tweets and other eccentricities only improved his popularity as president, and increased Estonia’s visibility on the world stage.
Ilves successfully used this tactic to promote a cyber agenda and help improve Estonia’s brand as an innovative and successful country. When looking at a president’s international impact, his or her ability to efficiently use the bully pulpit is a must. When gauging the international impact, in many cases this more important than being politically correct or presidential in a traditional sense.
Being loud and candid of course isn’t the only style or tool to garner attention and support for key Estonian interests. Much can be done behind the scenes with personal relationships and personal influence. Much of Estonia’s influence today evolves around the idea that it is a key ally and partner both in the European Union and NATO. Security, economic, and technology topics will most likely continue to be at the top of the agenda.
This means that the international community will expect Estonia to contribute on these topics, and it means that these topics are the country’s best chance for international influence. Nestor does not seem to have the background or the networks to continue to successfully engage with allies on key issues of security and economics.
By most accounts, Eiki Nestor is the most presidential of all the candidates. This is still an important factor when considering the domestic impact of the president. Unfortunately for Nestor, in 2016 that is no longer the most important qualification, where a president’s ability matters more and more to further Estonia’s interests internationally.
This article is the second in a six-part series published between Aug. 22 and 27. The other articles in the series are listed below.
Matthew Crandall is an international relations lecturer at Tallinn University. He has agreed to write portraits for all six presidential hopefuls in the 2016 election.