HELSINKI — Latvian lawmakers are set to elect a new head of state on Wednesday from a field of three candidates with no clear favorite.
The Baltic nation’s 100-seat Saeima legislature will choose a president to serve for a four-year term. Entrepreneur and businessman Uldis Pilens, civil society activist Elina Pinto and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics are registered by parties to run in the race.
It had been considered all but certain that incumbent Egils Levits, Latvia’s president since 2019, would seek reelection for a second term. But in a surprise move announced earlier this month, Levits said he was disappointed that parties in Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ three-party coalition government hadn’t been able to agree on a joint candidate, and said he wouldn’t run in such a situation.
Latvia’s presidency is largely a ceremonial post and the head of state acts mainly as an opinion leader and uniting figure in the country where almost a third of residents speak Russian.
A Baltic nation of 1.9 million, Latvia borders Russia to the east, Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south. Latvia has been a member of NATO and the European Union since 2004. The country is home to a sizable ethnic Russian minority, many of whom are Russian citizens.
Latvia regained its independence in 1991 amid the fall of the Soviet Union following nearly 50 years of Moscow’s occupation and rule. The new president will be Latvia’s 11th head of state, counting from the country’s first independence declared in 1918.
The president represents Latvia abroad, acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces, signs bills into law, nominates the prime minister and has the right to dissolve the Parliament, among other things.
If the Latvian head of state were elected by popular vote, the long serving and much-liked Foreign Minister Rinkevics, 49, would be a strong contender to win the race. Rinkevics, who is a staunch Ukraine-backer, has been Latvia’s top diplomat since 2011.
However. the outcome of the election is highly unpredictable with a vote in the Parliament where a candidate needs an absolute majority, or 51 votes, to win in the first round, and where the process is typically prone to political maneuvering behind the scenes.
Businessman Pilens, 66, is seen by observers as having reasonably good chances to win as a compromise candidate.
He became known to wider Latvian audiences as the creator of the centrist electoral alliance United List that was successful in the 2022 general election and is a part of Karins’ coalition Cabinet.
Pinto, the only female candidate, is a former presidential adviser and a Latvian diaspora activist.
Should no candidate get the needed majority in the first and second rounds of the public vote, a third voting round follows with the two candidates with most votes. If the process gets gridlocked with no candidate able to get the required 51 votes, new candidates may be entered into the race by parties.
Latvia’s new president is to be inaugurated on July 8.
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