Jailbird Lembergs named suitable Prime Minister material by party

Oppsition political party the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) has nominated Aivaras Lembergs, a businessman and politician sent to jail for corruption, as its preferred Prime Minister in upcoming parliamentary elections in Latvia.

The announcement was a made at a press conference during which the ZZS candidates for the 14th Saeima elections on October 1 were revealed. However, Lembergs himself will not be running in the election. Under the Latvian system, it is not strictly necessary for a prime ministerial nominee to be elected to parliament.    

On February 22, 2021, the Riga Regional Court sentenced Lembergs to five years in prison, confiscation of property and a fine of 20,000 euros. Lembergs is appealing the verdict and is out on bail while doing so.

That followed a mammoth 12-year court case, during which, despite the fact that he was being tried on serious fraud and corruption charges, Lembergs continued to play a very active role in politics. On a weekly basis he would also opine on matters of world and domestic importance via the Ventspils municipal website in his role as mayor of the city, frequently referring to himself in the third person.

In addition to his criminal case, Lembergs was also named as the target of extraordinary U.S. sanctions in 2019. According to the U.S. Treasury "Lembergs controls entities through political parties and corrupt politicians, and systematically exploits those entities and individuals for his own economic gain." 

In most countries being sent to jail for corruption and being sanctioned by the U.S. would probably end a candidate's political aspirations, yet in Latvia polls suggest Lembergs continues to garner surprising support among certain sections of society who don't see such things as a bar to holding high office.

Previously, it was thought that the candidate for the position of prime minister of ZZS could be Saeima deputy Viktors Valainis, who was nominated from the Latvian Farmers' Union (LZS), which forms part of the ZZS political group. However, Valainis said today that the goal of ZZS is for the candidate for the position of prime minister to have the most experience and enjoy the widest support in society.

It is far from the first time Lembergs has been the prime ministerial candidate of ZZS, though it is the first time since he was sent to prison. However, there is little likelihood of the diminutive kingpin actually becoming PM, even though the move does demonstrate the degree to which he retains influence within ZZS. Reports such as this one are likely to be viewed with incredulity in other countries, though.

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