Levits will not run for second term as Latvian President

In a dramatic development May 10, Latvian President Egils Levits announced that he would not be seeking a second term in office later this month.

Making the announcement on social media platform Twitter, Levits said:

"Taking into account the currently developing de facto coalition among pro-Kremlin-oriented and oligarch-linked political forces, I have decided not to participate in the presidential elections on May 31."

The announcement came the same day that businessman Uldis Pīlēns officially submitted his candidacy, and Levits' departing broadside appears to be directed in Pīlēns' direction, though the fact that the incumbent is stepping aside without a fight would tend to reduce its sting. 

As recently as April 19, Levits released a statement saying he would run for a second term – which remains on the presidential website. Now, less than a month later, he has decided the opposite.

In a lengthy explanation of the U-turn on the presidential website, he said he wanted the ruling three-party coalition to agree on a common candidate that could take office without the support of what he deemed pro-Kremlin and oligarch-linked parties. In a surprising move he also appeared to invite Pīlēns to step aside too, rather than rely on such votes. 

"I invite the other candidate supported by the coalition partner to do the same. This will allow the current coalition to agree on a common presidential candidate in the interests of the Latvian state," he said, describing a second term as "not an end in itself for me".

"There is a real possibility that the decisive votes in the election of the President could be from parties that do not represent Latvia's Latvian and Western course," he warned.

What this means for the race for the presidency is difficult to say. On the one hand it would appear to leave the way clear for Pīlēns – unless he has a change of heart and decides he will not accept the support of parties deemed undesirable by Levits.

Whether or not Pīlēns does so, it is likely another candidate must now step forward, as an uncontested run for Pīlēns, installed primarily by opposition parties in alliance with the coalition United List would not give a very positive signal about the democratic process or the stability of the government.

The Progressives party is due to unveil its candidate May 11. However, it is unlikely that whoever this is will be the unity candidate required to re-unite the coalition given the fact that the Progressives were excluded from the coalition during the government formation process. Interestingly, Levits noted in his announcement that he had advocated including the Progressives in the coalition. 

The Saeima vote to choose a new president is due to take place May 31. 

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