Estonia's leaders congratulate Edgars Rinkevičs as new Latvian president

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Edgars Rinkēvičs.
Edgars Rinkēvičs. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia's political leadership has congratulated Edgars Rinkevičs as new Latvian president-elect following Wednesday's vote at the Saeima, the Latvian parliament. Current incumbent Egils Levits, who opted not to run for a second, four-year term, leaves office on July 8.

Rinkevičs had been the country's long-serving foreign minister up until his election, which took place over three rounds and saw him take 52 votes at the 100-seat chamber, enough to win the seat.

Rinkevičs tweeted after the result that he was: " Honored and humbled to be elected as President of the Republic of Latvia," adding: "I will do my best to serve the people of Latvia well."

Some tipsters had said the ballot rounds could have drawn a blank and triggered a new election next month, but in the event this was not necessary.

President of Estonia Alar Karis offered: "Warm congratulations to President elect of Latvia Edgars Rinkevičs. Happy to continue close cooperation between Estonia and Latvia!. I hope to see you soon on your visit to Estonia.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas added her congratulations, too, tweeting that: "Latvia is an important ally and a friend - together we can keep our region secure and prosperous. I look forward to continuing our close cooperation."

Having just met Rinkevičs a few days ago, while the latter was still foreign minister, Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna also heralded the news, tweeting: "Congratulations dear friend and neighbor Edgars Rinkevičs for being elected as the next president of Latvia. There is no doubt that friendship and cooperation will continue to strengthen." 

Edgars Rinkevičs, 49, from Jūrmala, had been Latvia's foreign minister, from 2011 to the present, and will replace incumbent Egils Levits as president. Levits, head of state since 2019, was eligible to run for a second term, but declined to do so.

Three candidates ran on the day, Rinkevičs, businessman Uldis Pilens, and diaspora activist Elina Pinto.

Rinkevičs enjoyed the backing of his own and prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš' party, New Unity, prior to the election.

51 votes or more were needed to become president, at the 100-seat Saeima.

Round one was inconclusive (Rinkevičs polled at 42 votes) as was round two, with the difference that Pinto was eliminated after that round, as the lowest voted-for candidate.

In the third round run-off, Rinkevičs accrued 52 votes, with 35 against, but enough to become Latvia's eighth president post restoration of independence.

A fourth round would have been possible, with just Rinkevičs running alone. Had this, too, proved inconclusive, a fresh round of elections would have taken place next month, but in the event this was not required.

Since Rinkevičs did not find unanimous support from among the three coalition parties, he required the support of some opposition parties, meaning he has a cross-party mandate from both sides of the divide.

Latvian presidential terms last four years, one year less than in Estonia. As in Estonia, a president may not hold more than two consecutive terms.

While Rinkevičs as candidate prompted fears from some of a New Unity domination of Latvia's leadership, this has to be weighed against the current security situation, in which his experience as foreign minister is seen as important.

The result caps a busy few days for Estonia's neighbor to the South; a national holiday was declared Sunday and Monday after the men's ice hockey team took bronze in the world championships in Tampere, Finland, after defeating the U.S.

Riga itself was also hosting world championships events.

Egils Levits' term ends on July 8.

Latvia is, like Estonia, an EU and NATO member state.

ERR's Latvia correspondent: Rinkevičs a good choice for Estonia

According to ERR's Latvian correspondent Ragnar Kond, Rinkevičs is a good choice from and Estonian perspective.

"He is a great friend of Estonia, so I think he is a very good choice," Kond said Wednesday.

"Politicians can talk about the cooperation of the Baltic countries in very general terms and they can also talk in detail, more concretely. Edgars Rinkevičs is one of those people who knows the details, knows the content very exactly, while we have also seen that he has represented all three Baltic States very effectively, all over the world," Kond added.

A new foreign minister has not yet been proposed to replace Rinkevičs. 

EPL: Latvian president has slightly greater powers than their Estonian counterpart

Meanwhile Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) compared the Latvian and Estonian heads of state from a constitutional powers perspective (link in Estonian, scroll to gray box at end of article).

As noted above, while the president is elected by the legislature and not directly, in Estonia, a two-thirds majority is required rather than a flat out majority as in Latvia. Thus, the 52 (out of 100) votes Rinkevičs received on Wednesday would be 16 votes too short at the 101-seat Riigikogu.

Rounds of voting in Estonia also span more than one day; when Alar Karis was elected head of state in August 2021, he won in the second round, which was held at the Riigikogu the day after the first, inconclusive round.

In Latvia, all three rounds (out of a possible maximum four) were held on the same day at the Saeima, while had this process drawn a blank, fresh elections would have been called in early June.

In Estonia, if the initial Riigikogu voting rounds prove inconclusive, the issue goes to electoral colleges, drawn from the regions (though voting takes place in Tallinn). Should this, too, draw a blank, the matter goes to the Riigikogu's council of elders, who propose a single candidate to be voted on in parliament, with the two-thirds majority rule still applying. This is how Kersti Kaljulaid got elected in 2016.

EPL notes that the Latvian president has slightly more scope in terms of powers than his or her Estonian counterpart.

The Latvian president can present draft bills, and can also initiate the dissolution of the Saeima, though this must be approved via a direct referendum also, EPL reports.

The Latvian head of state can, as in Estonia, return bills without giving their assent, though unlike Estonia, the Latvian head of state cannot approach the Supreme Court in order to attempt to block bills passing.

Bills in Latvia can still be blocked by the president if requested by at least one third of MPs, upon which it will be suspended for two months. After that, the bill can be put to a referendum.

Media: Rinkevičs first ever openly gay Baltic states leader

EPL also opined that Rinkevičs' victory over Uldis Pilens, who was tipped as favorite several weeks ago, validates theories circulating in the commentariat in Latvia that the quid pro quo for some parties not in office currently, the Progressives, the Greens and the Farmers' Union (ZZS), voting in favor of Rinkevičs, was a place at the table in government.

Ragnar Kond also noted this in his comment, while LSM's English-language page reports that Prime Minister has hinted that a "broader" coalition may be in the offing than the current tri-partite  New Unity (JV), United List (AS) and National Alliance (NA) alignment.

The international media has also reported that Rinkevičs is the first openly gay head of state of any of the three Baltic states, and that he is a strong supporter of Ukraine.

Rinkevičs' six predecessors as Latvia's head of state, since the 1991 restoration of independence, are:

  • Anatolijs Gorbunovs (1991-1993)
  • Guntis Ulmanis (1993-1999)
  • Vaira Vike-Freiberga (1999-2007)
  • Valdis Zatlers (2007-2011)
  • Andris Berzinš (2011-2015)
  • Raimonds Vejonis (2015-2019)
  • Egils Levits (2019-2023)

Editor's note: This article was updated to include reaction from Estonia's political leaders, reaction in the international media, and the comparison between some facets of the Latvian and Estonian presidential roles.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Allan Aksim

Source: BNS, LSM

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