Vējonis becomes front runner in Presidential race

With Latvia due to choose its next president in the coming few weeks, another name officially entered the fray Monday, the first day on which contenders could be officially registered.

Defense Minister Raimonds Vējonis was confirmed by party colleagues within the Greens and Farmers Alliance (ZZS) political grouping as their choice to be head of state.

Speaking via telephone on LTV's Rita Panorama morning news show Tuesday, Vējonis confirmed: "I am ready to be a candidate... I can't say if I will be elected or not - that's in the hands of the Saeima."

However he expressed the hope that the traditionally opaque manner of choosing a president would be "more transparent" this time around with the public given a chance to debate the relative merits of the candidates. 

Vējonis' name was put forward by four prominent ZZS leaders including Aivars Lembergs, the flamboyant mayor of Ventspils who is the party's de facto kingmaker. He is on the record as boasting that no president ever gets elected without his say-so despite the fact that for more than six years he has been on trial for massive frauds.

Lembergs has also been described as a national security risk by Vējonis himself and it is understood that there is little love lost between the two men - a fact that could actually work in Vējonis' favor.

Vējonis joins a list of candidates that now includes Martins Bondars of the Regional Alliance party, Gunars Kutris of the For Latvia From the Heart party and most likely Egils Levits on behalf of the National Alliance.

The Unity faction of Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma had yet to officially nominate anyone when Vējonis stepped forward, though MEP Artis Pabriks was the front runner.

Attempts to put forward a joint candidate representing all three parties in the current ruling coalition (National Alliance, ZZS and Unity) had come to nothing.

But in a surprise move Monday night, Unity chair Solvita Aboltina threw her party's support behind Vējonis, making him the clear front runner.

However, Unity's total support is far from guaranteed and LSM understands several Unity MPs would rather see Levits - currently a judge at the European Court of Justice - installed in Riga Castle.

On Tuesday morning, Riga mayor and Harmony party leader Nils Usakovs suggested his party's likely candidate for the top job would be veteran lawmaker Sergejs Dolgopolovs.

But even when all names are officially announced by the May 19 deadline, the picture becomes little clearer. The nature of the vote - by parliament in a secret ballot - means that all manner of backroom deals can and usually are undertaken in order to secure victory.

There is a history of surprising results and one theory currently doing the rounds in the corridors of power is that former European Commissioner Andris Piebalgs may still throw his hat into the ring if it appears no other candidate has the required majority to carry the day in Saeima.

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