Tõnis Kons: Freedom of views still valid in Estonia

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Tõnis Kons. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Lavly Perling voicing support for the Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) has been followed by a series of baffling reactions buy politicians, officials and lawyers – enough to beg the question of whether a person who has worked as a prosecutor needs to go to ground before they can have a say in Estonian politics, Parempoolsed member Tõnis Kons asks.

Let us get the facts straight first.

Perling's duties as acting prosecutor general were concluded on February 3 this year when the government appointed Andres Parmas Estonia's new prosecutor general. Perling's service relationship with the Office of the Prosecutor General has been suspended. She works for the UN through the Eastern Partnership Center on advising the Ukrainian prosecution on reforms. The justice minister has already signed Perling' release from the prosecution service on September 20, 2021.

No obstacle for participating in public politics in the law

This subject matter also has a formal side.

The Political Parties Act lists a number of positions that make party affiliation impossible for those holding them. These include judges, prosecutors, police officials and Defense Forces Members in active service. The aim of these restrictions is not to violate people's freedom of conviction but to make sure people in those positions are free from whichever kind of political influence.

Further constraints are more specific, dependent on agency laws and can vary to a great degree. For example, judges and active EDF members are not allowed to participate in public politics. Policemen and prosecutors can participate in politics, including running in elections and participating in the work of local government councils.

Let it be said that Perling joined the Parempoolsed as a supporting member and has not filed an application to join the Isamaa party. It is also important to remember that Perling voiced her ideological preferences directly and publicly.

I am glad that an experienced top executive has decided to contribute to shaping Estonia's future. It was all the more peculiar for me to hear Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder's "welcoming speech" in which he said that Perling has chosen the wrong party. This from a politician who has been either an MP or a minister since 2003 and during whose stewardship Isamaa has lost thousands while gaining precious few new members.

This brings us to what lies at the heart of the matter – are private or public sector executives and talents even welcome in politics?

On the one hand, we have an entrenched Toompea politician who cannot stomach critical thinking and sees every newcomer as a competitor. On the other, Prosecutor General Andres Parmas and head of the Estonian Bar Association Jaanus Tehver whose statements suggest Perling should have "waited" and refrained from expressing her political views.

Reading these opinions, I was reminded of a case from the early 2000s when I served as the party's secretary general. One day, I received a letter of resignation from a capable young member of the party. When I asked for the reason, I learned that they had started working for an international audit firm and their employer expected political independence.

Matter of management quality in politics

Blind formalism and demonization of participating in public politics or the activities of political parties is a serious problem.

We have a government that has replaced seven ministers in just 18 months. The level of political debate in the Riigikogu is a far cry from the British Parliament. Executives, politicians and scientists usually prefer not to comment on political matters, not to mention throwing their lot in with parties.

Estonia is a small country and if our best and brightest do not want to or dare not contribute to politics, it is a problem and works to harm our competitive ability and quality of life.

Politics needs constant competition between new people and ideas to keep it from degenerating. Both inside of parties and out. For this reason, attacks on Perling over her willingness to participate in politics are utterly unacceptable for me. On the contrary, I hope that Perling's civic courage will embolden others to speak up and why not join parties. I urge people on behalf of Parempoolsed to follow Perling's example and join us.

The lunacy peaked on Friday evening when the Office of the Prosecutor General tweeted that it would be convening the prosecution's ethics committee on Monday to discuss Perling's conduct. What Kafkaesque nonsense is this?

As prosecutor general, Perling headed an institution and was in charge of general principles of proceedings, the prosecution's budget and staff policy and communication with other state agencies and politicians. The prosecutor general is not in charge of criminal proceedings.

The ethics committee and the board of the Bar Association could instead discuss the professional ethics of cases where active prosecutors join law firms immediately after leaving the Prosecutor's Office. We have seen such cases and that would constitute a real topic of discussion.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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