RIGA - The People's Party, the leading party in the four-party coalition, officially entered the presidential race last week by nominating Maris Riekstins, a top adviser to the prime minister, for the head of state. In the April 27 ballot, 68 party delegates voted in favor of Riekstins, while only 30 voted to support Regional Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs.
Riekstins, who recently did a short stint as ambassador to the United States, currently heads the office of Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis. A career civil servant in the Foreign Ministry, Riekstins has only recently joined the People's Party.
"He has many of the characteristics needed to be a good candidate. He has professional experience, he is well educated, and his diplomatic skills would be very good both for the position [of president] and for winning compromise [votes] with the other parties," Kalvitis' press secretary, Arno Pjatkins, said.
As the candidate from the senior ruling coalition party, Riekstins holds a stronge position in the election runoff. The ruling coalition has expressed willingness to negotiate nominating a joint candidate for the position of president. Such a candidate would have an incalculable advantage in the elections.
However, given the mechanics and politics involved 's in Latvia the president is elected by Parliament - many see the first round of candidates as sacrificial lambs who have little chance of being elected head of state. This is why many potential candidates refrained from participating in the contest.
"The People's Party has made a very serious stand, and I do not doubt that they will support my candidacy in front of the coalition partners," Riekstins told the Baltic News Service.
Despite his position not only as the candidate from the most powerful party in the coalition, but as the only coalition candidate so far nominated, Riekstins was reluctant to comment on his chances of winning a unified coalition candidacy.
He said that it is difficult to forecast if the other coalition parties would support his candidacy, but he urged them to consider candidates based on the work they have done and their characteristics rather than party affiliation.
Riekstins was also hesitant to speak about what he might be able to achieve as president, saying that it is too early to make any assumptions. He only outlined a general strategy, noting that "it is important for the new president to cooperate with the government and Parliament."
Pjatkins described the candidate's general strategy as being dual-partite and well balanced.
"Both directions are very important: the foreign [aspect] is always very important for a president here, and also domestic things such as economic issues," Pjatkins said.
"The most important thing for the foreign [aspect] is building a free Europe, continuing to build good relations with America, and improving relations with Russia," he said.
Riekstins has headed the prime minister's office since January, before which he acted as the ambassador to Mexico and the United States. He worked for more than 10 years as state secretary for the ministry of foreign affairs. Riekstins also spearheaded a number of delegations and advisory boards working toward Latvia's ascension into NATO and the WTO. His experience in foreign affairs is vast. Other parties will have difficulties finding someone with better credentials.
The only other candidate officially nominated so far is former foreign minister Sandra Kalniete of the New Era party.
Latvia's First Party and Latvia's Way (LPP/LC) will choose their candidate at a conference on May 12.
The nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) has said that they will not announce a candidate, but would rather work with the other ruling coalition parties to find a neutral nominee.
The first round of parliamentary voting on the presidency is scheduled for June 6.
Incumbent President Vaira Vike-Freiberga will step down on July 7.