LIVE BLOG closed: Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis is elected as Latvia's next president

Latvia's parliament chooses between four candidates today for the job of Latvian President: Raimonds Vejonis, Egils Levits, Martins Bondars and Sergejs Dolgopolovs. Live TV from the Saeima extraordinary plenary session to elect the President (in Latvian).

Candidates of the 1st round:

  • Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis (Greens and Farmers Alliance),
  • Saeima deputy Martins Bondars (Regional Alliance),
  • Saeima deputy Sergejs Dolgopolovs (Harmony party) 
  • European Court of Justice judge Egils Levits (National Alliance).

The four will face a vote in the 100-member Saeima today and in the likely event that no-one wins the required 51 votes required to carry the day, the candidate with fewest votes will drop off the ballot.

The process will then be repeated if necessary until just two candidates remain.

However, even at that stage there is no guarantee of victory. With the deputies making the decision able to vote in secret, and to abstain from voting, securing 51 seats can be challenging.

If no decision is made at the head-to-head stage, the parliamentary session will close and new nominees will be accepted for a second round to voting, 

1040: Here's how it works: the candidates disappear into a room behind the debating chamber where they cast paper ballots in secret behind a curtain. All four will battle it out in this vote, with the one garnering fewest votes expected to drop out. In the unlikely event someone does actually gain 1 out of 100 votes or more, we'll have a new president!

1030: First series of debates comes to an end - the first round of the secret ballot is already upon us.

1025: Presidential contender Martins Bondars takes the podium. Says he has been travelling round the regions and feels he has support. Thanks his fellow candidates and "may the best man win".

1020: Valerijs Agesins (Harmony) makes one of the shortest speeches in Saeima history at around 8 seconds, simply saying he wants people to choose well. Then Atis Lejins (Unity) makes an interesting point: says rumour is that some parties (by which he most probably means Harmony) may totally abstain from voting once their candidate is knocked out. This would be a mockery of democracy, he says.

1000 Debates get underway with Solvita Aboltina (Unity) setting the theme echoed by most speakers: this is a serious job, put the good of the country before the good of the party etc.

0950: Raimonds Vejonis tells LSM he is "confident but nervous" and that by his calculations he should have around 35 votes in the first round.

0940: Egils Levits arrives and thanks his supporters. "This is an important day for me, but an even more important day for the country," he smiles.

0930: A demonstration of around 100 people is outside parliament to support the candidacy of Egils Levits

As deputies file in and out of the voting room, there's a definite buzz in the press gallery with reporters and cameramen lining every corridor. The whole process certainly feels a bit more involved than in previous presidential elections, perhaps because of having a fairly wide spectrum of candidates. Also, the widespread public discontent with the secret voting system has resulted in more pre-election debate than usual.

All deputies have cast their votes so now the counting begins.

The expectation is that, coming from a small party, Martins Bondars of the Regional Alliance will get fewest votes in the first round and will drop out of the race. In fairness he ran a pretty good campaign, managing to put himself about and topped the online poll at www.mansprezidents.lv. If this was a public vote he would be a serious contender.

While his fate hangs in the balance he adjourns to the Saeima cafe for refreshment, looking like he's given it his best shot whatever happens. 

Unity leader Solvita Āboltiņa told Latvian Radio Channel 4 the faction is holding the candidacies of Sandra Kalniete and Artis Pabriks in reserve if voting ends without a result.

While votes continue to be counted, MP Dainis Liepins of the Regional Alliance stalks the public gallery looking frustrated that he can't vote. He's not allowed into the chamber proper while an investigation into his tax affairs continues. Who knows, maybe he'll storm into his seat and force the postponement of the entire session, like he did a few weeks ago?  

Raimonds Vējonis (eng)

    First round of voting proves inconclusive: 

    • Vējonis 34 for, 59 against
    • Bondars 7 for, 86 against
    • Dolgopolovs 23 for, 70 against
    • Levits 24 for, 69 against

    6 votes were declared invalid and of course Dainis Liepins was not allowed to vote...

    Following the announcement of the first round results and before the commencement of a second round of voting, the Harmony faction goes into a basketball-style team huddle to make sure they have their strategy straight. Meanwhile Levits tells the press he is satisfied and will continue "to the end".

    Second round of voting starts at 12:07.

    As second round of voting continues, Inguna Sudraba, leader of the For Latvia From the Heart party tells LSM her 7 MPs have a free vote and refuses to endorse any particular candidate. 

    Inguna Sudraba (ENG)

      In the parliamentary lobby, Harmony's contender Serjejs Dolgopolovs looks as relaxed as ever. He tells LSM he feels fine after the first round. Asked if he can attract votes from other parties he replies: "Sure, why not?" (pic attached). Results of second vote any minute now.

      “Public opinion has had significant effect on these elections, but things seem to be going back onto its old tracks, the coalition is getting together amongst themselves to decide, and the arguments prevail to keep the status quo or rock the boat in peril of capsizing into uncertainty” political scientist Juris Rozenvalds

      Sole demonstrator Kazis Zubkus, last of the Levits supporters left at Saeima, still hopes to greet a new President at the end of the day

      Second round provisional count.

      Second round of voting is also inconclusive and not much different: VEJONIS 34, LEVITS 25, DOLGOPOLOVS 24, BONDARS 7. So now Martins Bondars drops out of the race and the three remaining candidates will fight it out in a third vote.

      Saeima Speaker says opposition members being approached for switching support to Levits now that Bondars drops out of running. Bondars says he hopes for all powers to come to the table in the end, but that it isn’t important whether a president is elected Wednesday or some other day. Meanwhile fellow faction leader Dainis Liepiņš promises united Regional Alliance opposition to all three remaining candidates.

      Gunārs Kusiņš, observing from the sidelines for the first time as a free civilian rather than in his formal job as Saeima’s long-serving former parliamentary legal counsel, says the presidential nomination and election process has come a long way from the haphazard and clumsy sessions that marked the selection of the head-of-state during the 1990s.

      The third round of voting also leads to no result: Vejonis 35, Levits 26, Dolgopolovs 23. That means with Dolgopolovs eliminated the fate of the remaining two candidates really rests with the Harmony party. If they abstain as a bloc from the next votes, we'll have to do this all again. But will they?

      While most MPs head to the canteen for lunch, more tactical huddles form in the debating chamber (pic). Greens and Farmers Alliance faction head Augusts Brigmanis is still smiling (pic) and says his party will take the vote "step by step".

      Meanwhile Egils Levits remains upbeat. "We don't know the result yet but I still feel positive," he tells LSM as he scurries through the corridors in search of more votes.

      Talk of a joint government candidate ahead of the nominations came to nothing with both Vejonis and Levits emerging from coalition parties. Unless they want to hand the decisive act to Harmony, the government has one last chance to get its act together and choose: Vejonis or Levits?

      LSM goes to the places others dare not in search of a story! Having checked the real centers of power in Saeima: the smoking room, the canteen and the toilets, we failed to find any back room deals underway. Though we only looked in the gents' - maybe it's all happening in the ladies' rest room?

      Outside, deputies mingle with each other and the public as the dealmaking continues. One conspiracy theory sees Harmony actually backing Levits in order to defeat Vejonis - but with not enough votes to elect Levits himself. That would be extraordinary indeed, but you never know...

      Voting is now underway in the fourth round. It's mano a mano: Vejonis versus Levits! Will we get a result at last? We should know in about half an hour.

      As voting continues, Riga mayor and Harmony leader Nils Usakovs shows up at Saeima. He tells LSM his party will support neither of the two remaining candidates - which if true would mean we have to come back and do this all again in a couple of weeks...

      Nils Usakovs (ENG)

         

        ...unless of course the government finally votes as a single bloc...

        The tension is increasingly markedly as the results of vote number 4 approach. Photographers form a scrum around the seats in which Vejonis and Levits will hear whether the deputies really like them as much as they say they do.

        The fourth round sees Vejonis pick up support and get within 5 votes of the Presidency. He attracts 46 votes, Levits 26. Now we come back in 90 minutes for a fifth and final vote on Vejonis only. If he can pick up the remaining 5 votes from former Levits supporters he will be elected President. 

        Deputies are reconvening for the what will be the final vote of the day regardless of whatever happens. The head says Vejonis should be able to carry the day... but there's a nagging doubt he might be left high and dry on 50 votes. Saeima will decide!

        While voting continues, the temperature rises in the Saeima chamber both literally and metaphorically. A window is opened. Now the conspiracy theory is that Harmony may actually give a few votes to Vejonis to get him over the line and make it look as if the National Alliance was divided - thus sowing further discord among the government ranks. They wouldn't, would they? That's what a secret ballot does for you!

        With 55 votes, Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis is elected as Latvia's next president.

        Speaking Saeima, Vejonis says: " I will do my best to contibue the work I have been doing to increase Latvia's security and promote the welfare of the country as whole.

        "I believe that today we have grounds to be optimistic about our future, we can be proud of what we have achieved.

        "I will do all I can so that we the Latvian people, the political parties and parliament act together as a team so the decisions we make lead to a more prosperous Latvia. It is an honor for me to serve Latvia."

        Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said she was pleased with Vejonis' election, but that finding a new defense minister would not weaken her government.

        Laimdota Straujuma (ENG)

          Now Vejonis is holding a press conference in the Saeima's famous 'Red Room' making national security his clear priority:

          "My priority without any doubt will be national security, the strengthening of our armed forces and our borders...we've already agreed to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2018 but we need to ask what else we can do to enhance national security."

          Vejonis leaves to prepare for office. His first words on hearing he'd been elected: "I need a drink." He probably deserves one. With that, LSM will sign off from this live blog. 

          Latvia's presidential election system may not be the most transparent or the smoothest in the world, but on days like this it's certainly one of the more intriguing. Is that the president-elect I see across the road in the pub? Hey, wait for me Mr President...

          0 comments
          Comment
          Comment using your social media profile
          Politics
          Politics