RIGA - Valdis Zatlers, the candidate nominated by the ruling coalition, was elected Latvia's new president in the first round of voting on May 31. Zatlers, a former surgeon and former head of the Riga Traumatology and Orthopedics Hospital, garnered a total of 58 votes 's 7 more than what was needed to secure the presidency.
His rival in the elections, former Constitutional Court Judge Aivars Endzins, won 39 votes. In all, 98 of Latvia's 100 MPs cast their votes in the presidential elections
Addressing lawmakers after the vote, Zatlers thanked the parliament for their confidence, and said that it obliges him to "serve the state conscientiously."
In Zatlers' words, now it is necessary to consider two things 's goals and ideals. History shows, he said, that a nation can achieve a lot if its goals are in conformity with its ideals, and it is necessary to do the utmost to achieve this again, otherwise the people could start splitting, the incoming president said. "My dignity is the dignity of my people," Zatlers said, quoting a classical
Latvian poet. "It's an honor to serve Latvia," he added.
Zatlers has stated that consolidating the nation will be one of the top priorities of his presidency. "We have to pinpoint the reasons that split the nation... They have to be addressed, it is necessary to talk about them openly and they have to weeded out," Zatlers said at a news conference after his election.
"If we do not find these reasons, the split will continue," he warned.
In his response to the results of the election, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that Zatlers was the best choice for the post. Kalvitis told the press after the parliamentary ballot that he did not doubt even for a moment the "lawmakers' sense of responsibility and the unity of the coalition."
"Zatlers is the best possible president for Latvia's future," Kalvitis said.
Endzins, for his part, said that he is not disappointed with the outcome of the ballot and even feels a sense of relief at the outcome. He wished the incoming president luck and said that he did not regret his decision to run as it made the process "much more democratic."
The opposition New Era party, meanwhile, is using the opportunity to call for constitutional reform, making the president directly elected by the people. A statement released by the New Era faction says the process of choosing the president had been "undemocratic and non-transparent."
"The procedure in which presidential candidates' where nominated and the ignorance of public opinion prompts to start a debate on a popularly elected present and to propose respective amendments to the laws. The ruling coalition has shown that it is totally mindless of the will of a public majority, therefore such a responsible decision as electing the president should be delegated to the people," New Era says.
Latvia's incoming president, 52, is married and has three children. Zatlers graduated from the Riga Medical Institute and has been heading the main accident surgery hospital in Riga since 1994.
Zatlers started his career as an accidental-orthopedic surgeon, and later became the head of the accident surgery department of the Riga 2nd Hospital. Zatlers boasts a 15-year long international experience as a doctor.
The new head of the Latvian state has been an activist of the Popular Front that spearheaded the restoration of Latvia's independence, and also participated in rescue works after the deadly nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine in the 1980s.
Zatlers has been awarded the Order of Three Stars, the highest Latvian state decoration. He speaks fluent English and Russian.