Thursday, September 07, 2006

Latvian presidency candidates

No later than in June 2007, Latvia will elect its new president. The constitution does not allow our current president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, to run for another term and, no matter how much Latvians value Vike-Freiberga, we will not change the constitution for her. Today, New Era party announced Sandra Kalniete as its candidate for the next president. Officially, she is the first candidate.

Unofficially, 6-7 other candidates are discussed. Last week, I read an interview by Martins Bondars, a long-time aide to Vaira Vike-Freiberga. The Latvian president is elected by the parliament and the behind-the-scenes consultations about candidates are going on. The 7 leading candidates mentioned by Bondars are:
  • Sandra Kalniete (1953) - one of leaders of Latvian independence movement in late 1980s, then embassador to several countries, then the minister for foreign affairs from 2002 to 2004.
  • Andris Piebalgs (1957) - a slightly lower-profile member of the independence movement who also became an embassador and is now the Energy Commisionar for the European Commision.
  • Ojars Kalnins (1949) - Latvian American activist, Latvia's embassador to US from 1993 to 1999, now leads the Latvian Institute, an organization devoted to promoting Latvia's image abroad. (Curious fact: the previous head of Latvian Institute was Vaira Vike-Freiberga, prior to her being elected as the president.)
  • Ivars Lacis (1949) - professor of physics, the current rector (chancellor) of University of Latvia.
  • Artis Pabriks (1966) - originally political scientist with Ph.D. from University of Aarhus (Denmark), currently the minister of foreign affairs of Latvia.
  • Janis Jurkans (1946) - the first minister of foreign affairs for Latvia. Has recently claimed that he plans to quit politics.
  • Zaneta Ozolina (1957) - political scientist, aide to Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

The shortlist is of surprisingly high quality (compared to say, candidates nominated by various parties in 1999). I would be happy with any of the first five candidates. I would not like to have Jurkans as the president, though, despite myself having voted for him in parliamentary election once. I know nearly nothing about Ozolina.

Sandra Kalniete belongs to Jaunais Laiks (New Era) party. Artis Pabriks belongs to Tautas Partija (People's Party). Janis Jurkans belongs (or used to belong) to Tautas Saskanas Partija (People's Harmony party). The rest of candidates are non-partisan and have no obvious links to a particular political party. In Latvian politics, that may actually be an advantage. If the next parliament is as fractured as this one, the candidate will need support from at least 3 different parties to win. And many political parties may find it easier to support a neutral candidate than someone from another party. (Particularly, if it's a party they are not on good terms with. Sandra Kalniete may have hurt her chances by joining New Era a few months ago.) That is how Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected in 1999. Almost no one was voting for another party's candidate and then she emerged as a neutral figure who could draw support from 3 parties.

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