Saturday, May 26, 2007

Latvian presidential election: the stage is set!

Yesterday was the deadline for nominating candidates for the Latvian presidential election on May 31. And on the last day, we got another candidate!

Harmony Centre, a left-of-center party consisting mostly of ethnic-Russians, made a surprise move by nominating Aivars Endzins, the former Chairman of Constitutional Court of Latvia. On the evening of the same day, New Era Party's candidate Sandra Kalniete withdraw her candidacy in favour of Endzins, during the TV debate between the candidates. According to Kalniete, she made her decision during the debate, seeing that Endzins was the best candidate.

The cynic in me says that Kalniete's withdrawal was planned in advance and carried out in a way that would get the maximum positive publicity for Endzins. If so, New Era Party has proven that they are much better in staging events of this type than the coalition parties.

Who is Aivars Endzins? We know much more about him than Zatlers. Born in 1940, taught law at the University of Latvia for most of the Soviet period. Joined pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia in 1988. Unlike Kalniete, he was not among the top leaders of Popular Fronte, but he was quite active and was elected to the Latvian parliament in 1990 and re-elected in 1993 and 1995. In December 1996, he was appointed to lead the newly created Constitutional Court of Latvia. At this time, he resigned from both parliament and Latvian Way party to which he belonged at this point, so that he could become a politically neutral judge.

In last years, Endzins has spoken out against the top members of Latvian political elite on several occasions. Probably, the most prominent occasion was the Motte apartment case, in which a government real-estate management agency lead by Janis Motte handed out 183 government apartments in very good locations to members of political elite and their friends. The Constitutional Court reviewed the case and decided that the rules according to which the agency was run were illegal. According to Endzins, they were pressured not to consider the case by a number of politicians, including two prime ministers: Andris Skele and Vilis Kristopans.

On another occasion, Endzins spoke out against Imants Freibergs, the husband of our current president Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Freibergs family has acquired a long-term lease for land in a highly lucrative location in the resort town of Jurmala and wanted to build a house there. The problem was that the land was classified as a nature reserve and housing construction on it was prohibited! Imants Freibergs started working with Jurmala city council to remove his lot from the list of nature reserve so that he could build there. (They don't normally do that but if the lot belongs to a highly influential politician or businessman... the rules can change.) Endzins criticized that and suggested that Freibergs gives up the lease to the land.

So, if Endzins sees something wrong, he'll say that, even if the wrongdoers are high up in the government! His foreign policy abilities are unknown... but he has certainly communicated with foreign politicians and judges while being in the parliament (1990-1996) and Constitutional Court (1996-2006). So, he should be fine in that aspect. (If you think that's a a bit mellow endorsement of Endzins... yes, it is! I still wish Kalniete was a candidate.)

UPDATE: In comments, Pēteris Cedriņš corrects me and points out that Endzins has quite a bit of foreign policy experience:
he led the Latvian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was a member of the Latvian delegation to PACE, and has worked on the Venice Commission (the European Commission for Democracy through Law) and in the Baltic Assembly.
My previous posts on other presidential candidates:


Pēteris Cedriņš said...

A good summary, Andri, but I just want to note that Endziņš does have foreign policy experience -- he led the Latvian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was a member of the Latvian delegation to PACE, and has worked on the Venice Commission (the European Commission for Democracy through Law) and in the Baltic Assembly.

Aleks said...

While I agree that Kalniete would have made a respectable president, I didn't think she stood a chance in the current political climate. She was nominated by Jaunais Laiks before the fall elections. The party was betting that it would get them enough votes to get into the government coalition. But they were left on the sidelines along with two Russian parties. At that point, Kalniete's chances diminished. The four coalition parties wouldn't have ever voted for her.

I've also noticed that whereas Zatlers -- though nominated as an "independent candidate" by four-party coalition -- perceived largely as a Mr. Slice's puppet, Mr Endzins, who was nominated by Saskanas Centrs, is not perceived to be the puppet of the Russkies.

Reputation means everything in politics.

Latvian abroad said...

I agree about Kalniete! She is not electable in the present situation. But I still think she would be a very good president, possibly the best of all candidates.

Endzins will have the same problem with votes from four-party coalition, but at least, he has support from Saskanas Centrs. (I wonder if they felt Kalniete was too nationalist for them...)

Aleks said...

There might be cracks in the coalition, though. It's not clear what the Bees will decide. Their votes could make or break the decision who will become the next president.

It's funny -- the dirt on Endzins is coming out. The family affairs minister -- and my pastor -- Bistiks came out today to say something about Endzins' using the Communist Party when it was favorable to him, etc. etc. Nevermind that Endzins voted for Latvia's independence in 1990, that he was a part of Latvijas Tautas Fronte, or that his record since independence. To them, once a commie, always a commie.

Latvian abroad said...

Bastiks is your pastor? Seriously?

The attack on Endzins' Communist Party past is a red herring. If none of candidates gets majority and there is a new coalition candidate with a Communist past... Bastiks might forget that quite quickly.

To me, that outcome starts looking quite plausible. If a large number of coalition MPs is unhappy, they could vote against both candidates and force their leadership to nominate someone new.

Aleks said...

Yeah, I go to Bastiks' church in Riga. Mateja baznica.

We'll see what happens Thursday....

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