Strongman in line to take over as defense minister

Latvia's next Minister of Defense looks likely to be former weightlifter and TV presenter Raimonds Bergmanis after the Greens and Farmers Alliance (ZZS) grouping of which he is a member nominated him Monday as their pick to replace Raimonds Vejonis, who will take over as State President in July.

The ZZS board on Monday nominated MP Bergmanis who is expected to meet with all parliament factions soon, with lawmakers likely to vote on his appointment on June 18, reported the BNS newswire.

The center-right Unity party and the right-wing National Alliance have no objections to his candidacy, party representatives said.

Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma also told BNS that the coalition cooperation council had endorsed Bergmanis' candidacy. She also voiced her personal support for Bergmanis, citing a recommendation from president-elect Vejonis, which suggests he is  shoo-in for the job.

Einars Cilinskis, vice chairman of the National Alliance faction, told journalists after the coalition cooperation council's meeting that although the faction had not yet discussed Bergmanis' candidacy, the "National Alliance respects that ZZS is in charge of the defense sector."

Answering a question by BNS about whether he was willing to become the defense minister, Bergmanis said that it was a politician's duty to accept a ministerial position if offered.

Bergmanis, 48, is a ten-times Latvian weightlifting champion and was on Latvia’s Olympic team in three Olympic Games. He has also participated in a number of international strongman competitions.

After retiring from sport, he was successful as a host of several TV shows, and also worked at the Latvian Defense Ministry’s Recruitment and Youth Guard Center. He is the President of the Club of the Latvian Olympic Athletes and the Vice-President of the Latvian Olympic Committee.

The only blemish on his CV came in December 2014 when his car collided with a a tram in central Riga in which he sustained injuries but quickly recovered, no doubt thanks in part to his iron constitution.

However in March, Saeima approved a police request to prosecute Bergmanis for causing the collision by disobeying road signs.

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