ERR in Latvia: No clear favorite on presidential election day

Edgars Rinkevics.
Edgars Rinkevics. Source: Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Latvia elects its next president on Wednesday, and while things are looking potentially like a two-horse race at the moment, between Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and Uldis Pilens, a businessman, with many political parties yet to take a publicly stated line on any candidate, it is also viable that the first round proves inconclusive.

It has been a busy few days for Latvia, having just welcomed the men's national ice hockey team back from world championships in Finland, where the team defeated the U.S. to take the bronze medal; Riga itself has been co-hosting the championship.

As in Estonia, the Latvian head of state is not directly elected, but is voted for at the Saeima, the legislature.

Unlike in Estonia, only an absolute majority of at least 51 votes is required at the 100-seat chamber, compared with a two-thirds majority (68 or more votes) needed at the Rigiikogu.

Neither the coalition parties nor the opposition have struck any publicly known deal on whom to vote for as president, ERR reports. One thing is certain, sitting President Egils Levits has declared he is not running, though he would have been eligible for a second term.

The National Alliance (13 votes) and the Union of Greens and Farmers (16 votes) on whom much is likely to hang, will only decide on the day how to vote.

Latvia First (9 votes) has announced that the members of this faction will vote for Uldis Pilens.

Candidate Pilens himself told ERR's Latvia correspondent Ragnar Kond that: "We already said before the parliamentary elections (last fall-ed.) that in our opinion Latvia needs a different president, hence why we cannot vote for Egils Levits."

Uldis Pīlēns. Source: ERR

"15 deputies on the United List (16 votes) later proposed I take on this responsibility after the Easter holidays. I considered it for long time, and decided to stop being involved in business, both in the case of my being elected as head of state, and in the case of theat not happening. I have focused on presenting my preferences among the presidential candidates. I can see that via me, topics which are important to me have also reached the debates held by other candidates. So these things are on the agenda regardless of who gets elected president. And this already represents an important victory," he went on.

Edgars Rinkēvičs, the foreign minister proposed as next head of state by New Unity, his party (26 votes) has plenty of experience, but the fear in some quarters is of a dominance of New Unity should he get elected president – since it is also the party of the prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš.

Rinkēvičs said: "The constitution tasks the president with specific things relating to the field of foreign security, policy and defense issues. I would like to focus more on the observance of human rights plus these principles. We argue a lot in society, just like the Estonians do, about how we can agree on common values ​​in the country during a conflict situation, and this is not an easy thing to accomplish at all."

A third candidate, Elina Pinto, a Latvian diaspora activist, is also running, and has the support of the Progressives (10 votes).

Elina Pinto Source: LTV/Aigars Kovaļevskis

Another party, For Stability! (10 votes) will likely not support any candidate, LSM reports.

While the first round of voting at the Saeima is by secret ballot, in the second round, the voter's name is indicated on the ballot sheet.

Public broadcaster LSM reports on its English-language page that if a head of state is not elected in the second round, the candidate with the fewest votes will withdraw.

Egils Levits (right) with Alar Karis. Levits is not seeking reelection as Latvian president. Source: Raigo Pajula / VPK

Should neither of the two remaining candidates poll at at least 51 votes in the third round, the fourth round will see a vote on the candidate who amassed the higher number of votes in round two.

If this candidate did not reach 51 votes, fresh presidential elections would take place in mid-June, with candidates to be nominated early on in the month.

LSM has more detailed information on Latvia's presidential election system here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', correspondent Ragnar Kond. LSM

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