LTV's De Facto: no clear favorite in presidential run yet

Take note – story published 1 year ago

The forthcoming presidential vote on May 31, for which three candidates have been announced, currently do not see a clear favorite and could push for potential changes in the governing coalition, according to an analysis by the Latvian Television broadcast De Facto on May 14.

There are currently three confirmed candidates for the presidential run in Latvia – entrepreneur and founder of political grouping United List Uldis Pīlēns; public administration expert and Latvian diaspora activist Elīna Pinto; and current Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Last Wednesday, the incumbent Egils Levits publicly expressed hope that the coalition could agree on his re-election. “I think the coalition needs to agree on one candidate,” Levits said at a press conference in Riga Castle. A few hours later, Levits' public statement came on the decision to not participate in the presidential elections. He also publicly encouraged an unnamed “other candidate supported by the coalition partner” [Uldis Pīlēns] to do the same, namely to withdraw his candidacy so that the election of the president would not be decided by, citing Levits, “pro-Kremlin and oligarch-related circles.”

Uldis Pīlēns announced that he did not see the grounds for withdrawing his candidacy. Also in a conversation with De Facto, he dismissed concerns that his eventual election with opposition votes would pose any risks. Pīlēns said he was ready to meet with any of the 100 Members.

Levits' announcement of at least a temporary withdrawal from the fight for presidential office had no effect on the Progressives' decision to advance their own nominee Elīna Pinto. Pinto is not affiliated with Progressives but currently has the explicit support of only their opposition faction.  While formally Pinto's chances of getting further than the first rounds of presidential elections are not great, she is now stressing her non-affiliation and independence as an advantage over other candidates.

Within a day, the official decision on advancing a candidate was taken by New Unity party faction. Edgars RInkēvičš, who left Riga Castle 12 years ago as head of Valdis Zatlers' presidential office, is now willing to return.

Rinkēvičs, the current Foreign Minister, has previously received criticism from political opponents for not knowing how to work in business or in the private sector. In addition, now Pīlēns is positioning himself as an 'economy transformation' president, a priority included in the current coalition goal statement, scoring him potential votes by Ainārs Šlesers' Latvia First party faction.

However, Rinkēvičs pointed out that other presidents have already made clear that the possibilities of the president to influence economic processes are minimal.

“Yes, I also have ideas in which we can boost Latvia's competitiveness, but it comes again largely primarily through economic diplomacy. And then, of course, there can be situations – working with advisers, working with some set of entrepreneurs, promoting ideas. But at the end of the final decision is taken by the [Cabinet] and the Saeima, and this is to be taken into account,” said Rinkēvičs, adding: “Let us be realists – there is something very good to be taken from business in the State administration, but society and public administration work according to different rules, and to apply business rules overall is simply impossible,” said Rinkēvičs.

51 votes to be found

For the next president to be elected, they need to collect at least 51 votes of the 100 MPs. 

For the time being, Pinto can count on 10 votes from the Progressives faction, while the two gentlemen are currently missing at least 25 votes each. Rinkēvičs automatically has 26 votes from New Unity, whereas Pīlēns has 15 votes from the United List and is promised another nine from Latvia First. In theory, the rest of the votes are among party factions that do not advance their candidates or have not yet promised to do so.

In the case of Rinkēvičs, the first talks would be with the coalition partners – the National Alliance, which holds 13 seats and votes. At least initially, however, the deputy leader of the faction Jurģis Klotiņš is skeptical of this candidacy: "The New Unity has the post of Prime Minister. I believe that the political balance should rather seek a personality that is not an active member of any political party and does not hold office at the moment. Now, it is obvious that Egils Levits is such a personality. Then I have a really internal understanding of why we couldn't agree with everyone in the coalition to support him."

It is not excluded that, in the event of Pinto not gaining support, Rinkēvičs could be supported by the Progressives in later rounds of elections.

A large part of the votes in the parliament is held by the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) with 16 MPs. As De Facto reported a year ago, Uldis Pīlēns' United List split the "old ZZS", as the Greens Party and Liepāja Party split from ZZS and joined the United List. On the other hand, ZZS has also worked with Unity in the past.  

Indeed, ZZS claims that the prospect of receiving their 16 votes is similar for all three candidates at the moment. “We will work on it to have 16 members support for one candidate. I think it is clear to everyone that the ZZS can impact this process, and we are 16 votes, not one or two, important in this process, and we will go as a team further in this election cycle,” said Viktor Valainis, head of the Saeima faction of ZZS.

Meanwhile, the opposition party For Stability!, which holds 10 votes, could vote against all three candidates if none of them promises something important to the party, said the party's leader Aleksejs Rosļikovs.

"First and foremost – to abolish the potential deportation of people that could take place on September 2. [..] If we can achieve that we as a European country, a democratic country, can ensure that these people can stay in Latvia, so let us allow them to stay. [..] If the presidential candidate and their party says it is not acceptable to them, then our further conversation is useless," said Rosļikovs, talking about the expiration of residence permits for those Russian citizens who cannot prove their proficiency of the Latvian language at the basic level.

The presidential vote will take place on May 31, 2023. For a full account of how the president is chosen on voting day, check this story from our archives. In addition, the official presidential website has plenty of information in English.

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