Latvia gets contender No. 3

  • 2007-05-16
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon
RIGA - One more presidential contender has materialized in the slowly growing pool of candidates in the run-up to the July 7 deadline for electing a new head of state, while a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the very fate of Parliament itself. On May 12, Latvia's First and Latvia's Way bloc named former Culture Minister Karina Petersone as their candidate. She joins Sandra Kalniete, named by opposition New Era party, and Maris Riekstins from the ruling People's Party, as the three candidates named so far.

Two ruling parties 's the Greens and Farmers Union, and For Fatherland and Freedom 's and two mainly ethnic Russian parties 's the Harmony Party and For Human Rights 's have yet to nominate a candidate.
The Greens and Farmers Union, who have seen their fortunes fade as their leader and main backer, Aivars Lembergs, continues to languish in jail, and For Fatherland and Freedom, a right-wing nationalist party, called on coalition partners to come up with a common candidate, preferably someone who would not belong to any political party.
Ainars Slesers, transport minister and head of Latvia's First Party, weighed in on the debate, arguing that the coalition should choose a common partisan candidate, an idea that has been blasted as unrealistic by analysts.
Slesers argued that, for the sake of coalitional stability, the four parties should work together so as not to allow the presidential ballot to drive a wedge between them.
"An agreement should be reached on a common candidate within the coalition," he said at a press conference after the May 12 Latvia's First and Latvia's Way conference.

At the same time, Slesers stressed that the final candidate need not, and should not, be neutral, as has been argued by the Greens and Farmers Union and For Fatherland and Freedom/
"I would like to exclude a possibility of a non-party candidate. […] The duties and responsibilities that the new president will have will be very tough. A person without any political experience can hardly handle it from the first day," he said.
"I insist that the president should be elected during the first stage. An agreement should be reached in advance," he said.
People's Party lawmaker Janis Lagzdins has previously stated that he also thinks a common candidate would be in the best interests of the coalition. "Considering the politically red-hot situation, I am sure that it would be in the interests of the coalition and Parliament to agree on a common candidate," he said.

Various political analysts, however, have contended that it is precisely because of the "politically red-hot" situation that the ruling coalition will be unable to agree upon a candidate, especially a partisan one.
Iveta Kazoka, an analyst for the prominent NGO Providus, was quoted by the Apollo news portal as arguing that the possibility that Latvia could have "an official neutral state presidential candidate is quite high."
"I'd be surprised if the coalition parties could unify on one of the mentioned candidates," she said. "That wouldn't be politically logical."
Kazoka also contended Slesers' statement that an agreement should be reached at least among three coalition parties and their opinion should be supported then by the fourth one.

"It's difficult to imagine the kind of agreements that would have to happen between three out of the four parties in the ruling coalition, so this strategic long-time position would come down to political competition," Kazoka said.
Political commentator Ivars Ijabs shot down the idea that the coalition could ever agree on any partisan candidate.
"I don't think that now the parties' proposed candidates could be people who could really be elected in the first round," he told LETA.
"The ruling coalition has undermined their reputation with differing actions, so a clear neutral candidate would be the best compromise to renew societal trust in state powers," Ijabs said.
Speaking to journalists last week, Riekstins of the People's Party hailed the accomplishments of Vaira Vike-Freiberga in the foreign policy arena, but said a head of state should do more domestically.

"According to the constitution, the president has many instruments for participating in domestic politics. But during the rule of Vike-Freiberga, several of them were not used," he was quoted as saying.
Petersone graduated the University of Latvia, the faculty of foreign language, with a degree in English philology. She has been a special assignments minister in society integration and a culture minister. Petersone is a board member of the Latvian National Library support society, and a member of several other non-governmental organizations. She has noted that there are several tough issues to be dealt with, and that the incumbent and previous presidents have too little used their rights to initiate bills.
Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Workers Party said it would nominate Dainis Ivans, a member of Riga City Council who is well known for his struggle for Latvia's independence.