Law and order and the Constitution: Allar Jõks

IRL and Free Party presidential candidate Allar Jõks. (Rene Suurkaev/ERR)
By Matthew Crandall
8/25/2016 9:39 AM
Category: News

Next in ERR News’ presidential candidates portraits is Allar Jõks. Jõks is best known for his time as chancellor of justice from 2001 to 2008. While this is the highlight of his qualifications for president, there are other interesting aspects.

Allar Jõks’ candidacy is supported by both the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) and the Free Party (Vabaerakond). Before becoming chancellor of justice, Jõks worked as a judge for a decade in various jurisdictions. His legal background provides him with a certain intrigue lacking in other traditional candidates who typically have a long career tied to a single party.

Being supported by two parties and being officially affiliated with none means that Jõks would be able to build a positive image of himself relatively easily. One key element of the office of president is to be above politics and to work on behalf of the country, not on behalf of a party. Most presidents are able to build this image, but for long-time party leaders it takes time and effort.

Jõks would be able to assume that mantle immediately. While promoting himself as a presidential candidate, Jõks has stressed the importance of the constitution and more transparency in politics. His legal and judicial expertises support this emphasis well. This message, coupled with his experience, would make him an effective president when considering domestic issues.

Coming down on the side of justice and taking a stand to support the constitution are powerful messages that Jõks would be able to deliver to the Estonian people. This would make him a needed counterweight to the traditional party elite.

In contrast, when evaluating the impact Jõks would have internationally, the picture isn’t as rosy. This is not to say that Jõks is without international experience. While most of Jõks’ legal and judicial experiences were focused on Estonia, he does have experience in international legal affairs.

While serving as chancellor of justice, he had a front-row seat overseeing the border treaty agreement between Russia and Estonia in 2005. A non-binding preamble was added to it that referenced the 1920 Tartu peace treaty. Russia reacted by withdrawing their support for the treaty in an event that garnered significant international attention. In addition, after Jõks’ time as chancellor he served as a legal expert with a UN mandate in many (mostly) post-Communist countries, dealing with democracy and human rights issues. In addition, Jõks was awarded the European Movement Estonia’s 2012 European of the Year award.

This list of experiences highlights the type of influence that Jõks would likely be able to build internationally. Issues of democracy, human rights, and sovereignty are of utmost importance globally. From the illegal annexation of Crimea to the rise of populist nationalism, Jõks has the background and experience to potentially have a voice on these issues.

That being said, the chance of Jõks being able to have an influential voice on these issues is low. It has been eight years since he served as chancellor, and his experience as an international legal expert are also not sufficient to give him legitimacy on the international level.

Given this fact, one must also wonder about Jõks’ international networks. Had Jõks continued and expanded his international legal work with the UN or perhaps the OSCE, he would have placed himself in a stronger position. The last few years working as a lawyer seem to have turned his international potential into that of a low profile candidate.

And as with any low profile candidate, building a first impression is critical and difficult. Unfortunately for Jõks, he has already been caught in a scandal by making sexist jokes that was rightly branded by the Estonian media as inappropriate for anyone with presidential ambitions.

While this certainly does not doom his candidacy, it is particularly damaging for him given his need to establish a stronger international profile, and given his message on justice and law and order. For a former chancellor and judge to be influential, presidential behavior is expected. Though the damage of the joke might be felt more domestically, it did not escape the eyes of the international community and can be considered as a first strike. And given Jõks’ starting position, he may not be afforded the luxury of playing by the three strikes rule.

This article is the fourth 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.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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