President calls for popular elections

  • 2001-12-13
  • Nick Coleman, RIGA
Having earlier called for discussion of whether she should still be elected by Parliament, Latvia's favorite politician, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, called in an interview published Dec. 5 for her post to be popularly elected.

She came out in favor of a popular vote for the first time, in an interview with leading daily newspaper Dienas Bizness.

"For a long time I was not certain it would be a good solution, but now I have stepped over the threshold. I am beginning to get the impression that the Latvian Constitution should indeed be changed to allow for a popularly elected president," she said.

The president, who has spearheaded Latvia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union and has consistently had the highest popularity ratings of any public figure in Latvia, confirmed her intention to stand for a second term in 2003.

"It would be a pleasure to be entrusted with the presidency again. Seeing how much still has to be improved, feeling that by my interest and participation I can help those who want to make this country a better place, that I can be a catalyst contributing to faster processes, I believe I could be of use."

Political analyst Karlis Streips doubted the Parliament would be willing to give up its power to select the president.

He also questioned whether Latvia, whose pre-World War II constitution was restored after the end of Soviet rule a decade ago, needed a popularly elected president, with the kind of enhanced powers that implied.

"Over the past 10 years the parliamentary system has begun to mature. The current Parliament is not the absolute circus the last one was," said Streips.

"Whether the country needs a strongly presidential system I'm not convinced."

Either way, Vike-Freiberga, who has spent much of her life in exile in Canada and has impressed such leaders as French President Jacques Chirac with her linguistic skills, looks well placed to win a second term when her current four-year term expires.

The Latvian leader, who turned 64 on Dec. 1, would start the campaign "an absolutely formidable candidate," said Streips. "Whether she would get into a situation where she was just another candidate, open to pot shots, I doubt. Latvia doesn't have such a nasty political culture."