RIGA - Former Foreign Minister and independence activist Sandra Kalniete joined the New Era political party Jan. 30, where party colleagues greeted her with calls to succeed current President Vaira Vike-Freiberga when her term expires next year.
The decision to join New Era, Parliament's largest political party, came after months of periodic speculation in the media whether Kalniete would put an end to her independent status and join a political party. It was widely believed that she would only join a political party if she could not find a position in the country's diplomatic corps.
Kalniete has not revealed whether she would agree to be the party's candidate for head of state. However, she admitted to journalists that it would be very difficult to follow such a powerful personality as Vaira Vike-Freiberga.
"Kalniete would make a splendid presidential candidate, but this question isn't yet on the agenda," New Era secretary Edgars Jaunups told the the daily Diena.
People's Party faction leader Janis Lagzdins, however, said that if Kalniete joined New Era, a coalition partner and right-wing rival of the People's Party, her chances of taking the president's post would decrease.
Lagzdins pointed out that Vaira Vike-Freiberga didn't belong to any party when she ran for the presidency in 1999. This, he suggested, was to her benefit. Since none of the party candidates received enough votes during the first round, this allowed Vike-Freiberga to be elected in the second round of voting.
After the parliamentary elections in 2002 Kalniete was nominated by the New Era party to be the country's foreign minister, but remained independent of any political party. She briefly became a EU commissioner until she was substituted by Parliamentary Chairwoman Ingrida Udre after the New Era led government collapsed.
However, Udre herself was later dumped for Andris Piebalgs, Kalniete's chief of office.
Kalniete is one of the most well-known and respected people in the country due to her work during the independence movement and her tenure as Foreign Minister.
New Era could announce its presidential candidate before the upcoming general elections in October. Kalniete said that the next president would face tough challenges, "because it will take a very long time for someone to become a worthy successor of such an outstanding president [as current President Vaira Vike-Freiberga]."
Vike-Freiberga's second term expires in mid-2007. She has been named among the leading candidates for the post of U.N. secretary-general, which will become vacant after present Kofi Annan steps down at the end of this year.