Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Latvian presidential election, post scriptum

Some final thoughts on the presidential election:

  1. Most intense election, ever. This was the most heated presidential election, since Latvia regained independence in 1991. The Latvian president is chosen by the parliament and, in previous 4 elections, people did not even try to influence the parliament. As a result, we got two presidents: Guntis Ulmanis (in 1993) and Vaira Vike-Freiberga (in 1999) who would not have won a popular vote at the time when they were first elected. (Vike-Freiberga eventually became very popular. But, when she was first elected, most Latvians only vaguely knew who she was.) And hardly anyone was objecting to that.

    This time was different. We had, for the first time, TV debates between the candidates. Numerous organizations expressed their opinions on candidates. Everyone had an opinion. And a lot of people were very disappointed, when the parliament chose a less popular coalition candidate (Valdis Zatlers) over a more popular opposition candidate (Aivars Endzins).

  2. Zatlers is a puzzle. Our new president, Valdis Zatlers, was a complete unknown 9 days before the election. We still don't know his positions on many issues nor how independent he would be as the president. On the positive side, people who know him as a doctor say good things about Zatlers and it seems that our outgoing president Vaira Vike-Freiberga (whose judgement I trust) preferred him over the other candidate. On the negative side, a lot of people are very concerned by the way how Zatlers became coalition's candidate and whether he was chosen for loyalty more than for competence. (And this is a very soft way to word their concerns.)

    I hope Zatlers turns out fine! But depending on which article I read, my expectations about Zatlers go from cautiously optimistic to extremely worried and back.

  3. Zatlers is a puzzle, even to those who selected him. If someone in the ruling 4-party coalition selected Zatlers in hope they could easily manipulate him, they have made a risky choice. With non-politician candidates like him, it's difficult to predict how they will behave after becoming the president. Recent Latvian history has previous examples of non-politicians ascending to top government positions in a lightning speed, like Zatlers. More than once, these people turned out to be much more independent and strong-willed than expected.

    The second way how this choice could backfire on the coalition is if Zatlers turns into a PR disaster that keeps saying the wrong things. In this case, they'll be stuck with him for the next 4 years and that will certainly affect the next parliamentary election. Again, if they had chosen someone who was a public figure before, it would be predictable how he will behave in the spotlight of the media. With Zatlers, it's not.


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