Oligarch tops population's presidential wish-list

Aivars Lembergs, the long-time mayor of the port city of Ventspils, is the most popular choice among Latvia's population to be Latvia's next president, a poll by the SKDS company said Thursday.

Lembergs - currently on trial on charges of massive fraud and graft - topped the poll on 17.4% support with more than 21% of Russians and 14% of Latvians surveyed saying he was the man for Latvia's top job.

Lembergs, often referred to as an 'oligarch' is the driving force of the Greens and Farmers Union political party and has been mayor of Ventspils for two decades as well as having massive business interests in the city which have made him one of the country's richest individuals.

He has also constructed a large hill in the town for the recreation of residents in the shape of his favorite hat.

Lembergs caused a stir last year by describing NATO forces as "occupiers" and has a talent for causing controversy. He has in recent weeks been a severe critic of sanctions against Russia, claiming that Latvians "pay a higher price than the rest of the world" for imposing them.

Second place in the survey was taken by Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs who garnered 30.6% support from Russian speakers but a less impressive 4.9% from Latvians. 

Current President Andris Berzins commanded roughly equal support from both language groups with 8.8% of Latvians and 7.7% of Russians indicating he should serve a second term.

The survey results were published in the Neatkariga (Independent) newspaper which Lembergs is believed to control.

Also Thursday, Lembergs' trial - which has been running for more than five years with no end in sight - was due to continue in a Riga court.

Meanwhile the Saeima rejected proposals by the Regional Alliance party for the Latvian President to be elected by open parliametary vote instead of the current system in which Saeima deputies choose the leader in a secret ballot and have no obligation to say which way they voted or why. 

The next President will be chosen in early June this year.

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