Who are Latvia's 2023 Presidential candidates?

Take note – story published 1 year and 1 month ago

When the nomination window closed on May 13, just three people had submitted the necessary documents to Saeima hoping to become Latvia's next head of state. For a full outline of how the selection process works, you can see our earlier feature. But for now, here's a brief look at who the three declared candidates are.   

Name: Uldis Pīlēns
Age: 66

Current job: Chairman of the board at UPB Group, a construction and industrial holdings business that incorporates more than 20 companies. Originally founded in 1991, 'UPB' stands for 'U. Pīlēna birojs' (U. Pīlēns Bureau). He's also the founder of Ola Foundation, which describes itself as "A space where technologies meet history, design meets nature and people meet an elaborate environment" in a building designed by himself.

Background: Trained as an architect, Pīlēns is a very successful entrepreneur who moves in both business and artistic circles. His previous political engagement has been via the now-defunct Peoples Party, where he was on the board from 1998 until 2008 and as Liepāja city councillor. 

He gained fresh prominence in 2022 by forming the 'United List' in May from a collection of smaller parties and political associations to jointly contest the October Saeima elections on a traditionalist, business-oriented ticket. This proved to be a very smart move, giving the United List 15 seats in Saeima, the Speaker's chair and a powerful place in a three-party coalition government. Without banding together on Pīlēns' initiative, it's unlikely any of the parties would have made much impact.

However, Pīlēns himself did not stand for election, restricting his role to that of an eminence grise, prompting some suspicions that a secondary, if not primary, purpose of the United List is to secure the presidency for him.

Quote: "If we – the people of the 'United List', MPs, myself – did not see the possibility of getting the majority of votes, then obviously it would be just a theatrical performance."

Chances: Good. Though his United List only counts for 15 of the 51 votes he needs to become President, if enough opposition members of parliament fell in behind him as they have indicated they might, he could in theory get 51 votes. His expected main rival, incumbent President Egils Levits has already dropped out of the race and invited Pīlēns to do the same rather than accept votes from allegedly pro-Moscow or pro-oligarch parties. Pīlēns has shown no inclination to follow this advice, arguing that all Saeima members have been democratically elected and therefore one vote is as good as another.

However, things might not be quite so straightforward. If Pīlēns does rely on the opposition to give him victory, it might lead to the break-up of the current coalition, at which point the question becomes which does he want more – a party in government or four years as President?   


Name: Edgars Rinkēvičs
Age: 49

Current job: Minister of Foreign Affairs (since 2011).

Background: Latvia's longest-serving Foreign Minister actually started out as a journalist with Latvian Radio in 1993, his beat being foreign affairs, which has clearly been his obsession ever since. From 1995 to 2008 he was steadily climbing the ladder as a civil servant at the Ministry of Defense, and played an important role in Latvia's accession to NATO in 2004.

From 2008 to 2011 he took charge of the presidential chancellery under President Valdis Zatlers, so he has an intimate insider's knowledge of how that institution works, and then began his record-breaking stint as Foreign Minister, during which time he has gained an international reputation as a hard-working and unflappable advocate of Latvia's western-oriented path.

When he came out as gay in 2014 it made international headlines, but in Latvia itself it created less fuss than many people (including himself) expected as Rinkēvičs was judged more on his strong track record, work ethic and general air of competence than anything else. If he did become President a similar pattern would likely emerge of international outlets concentrating on his sexual orientation while domestically his actual policy proposals would be of more interest.       

Quote: "One speech, law or decree will not be enough, but careful work, step by step and persistence can bring results. That's why I choose to be a candidate for the position of State President."

Chances: Fair. Seen more as professional than overtly political, Rinkēvičs would probably win if the President was elected by popular vote – but it's not. The support of the New Unity and National Alliance political forces only gives him 39 votes, but it might be reasonable to expect another ten votes from the Progressives if – as seems likely – their candidate fails to get past the first round of voting. That still leaves him needing to find a few votes elsewhere, most likely if a couple of members of the Greens and Farmers Union can be induced to do so. Alternatively, if Uldis Pīlēns does decide to drop out of the race, Rinkēvičs should be a shoo-in.  

Name: Elīna Pinto
Age: 41

Current job: Until April 2023 Elīna Pinto was a consultant with the OECD in Luxembourg. From 2019–2020 she was a presidential advisor on modern state and sustainability affairs, and is head of the business, professionals, and researchers cooperation platform esiLV. She was also a long-standing president of the European Latvian Association.

Background: At 41, Elīna Pinto is only just old enough to stand for the Presidency, where the minimum age requirement is 40. She is also the only female candidate despite the fact that Latvia is a country where women outnumber men more than anywhere else.

Her lengthy and wide involvement with diaspora organizations and social activism, plus her relative youth and European outlook would likely make her a real contender in a popular vote, particularly among younger voters and the diaspora community. But this is a position chosen by Saeima, were the average age is currently 48 and 71 of the 100 deputies are male. 

Quote: "As a non-partisan State President, I am ready to take national and deeply personal responsibility for Latvia. I am ready to invest my international temperament, a warm sense of belonging to our nation, and the courage and energy of the renewed generation of Latvia's independence in the work of the State President."

Chances: Slim. With the declared support only of the social democratic Progressives party, for which she is the nominated candidate despite describing herself as "non-partisan", Pinto would appear to be the rank outsider as far as the actual presidential vote is concerned. Nevertheless, her presence is not just symbolic as her rivals will have to contend with her articulate intelligence in order to keep their own presidential bids on track during pre-vote debates. 

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