20/06/2003 - Results
As expected, Vaira Vike-Freiberga was re-elected President of the Republic of Latvia on 21st June by 88 votes out of the 94 that were cast. Six members of parliament voted against and six others did not vote at all. The outgoing President was the only candidate for her own succession.
Amongst the political parties represented in the Saeima, the only Chamber in Latvian parliament, the four parties of the government coalition -New Era, Latvia's First, the Union for the Motherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) and the Farmer's Union and the Greens (ZSS)- as well as the opposition movement, the People's Party (TP), said they were in favour of the re-election of the outgoing President. "The Latvians clearly expressed their support for the President and I can only follow this opinion", declared the Prime Minister Einars Repse (New Era). The opposition movement, For Human Rights in United Latvia (FHRUL), expressed the desire to put forward its own candidate against the outgoing President but finally could not agree to appoint anyone. Four of the party's 80 MP's did not take part in the election. The National Harmony Party (TSP) turned to support Vaira Vike-Freiberga's candidature the day before the election. For its part the Social Democrat Party (LSDSP) spoke briefly of probable candidates including the leader Alfreds Rubiks, before abandoning the project of presenting one of its members.
The President of the Republic is elected by secret ballot with an absolute majority by the 100 members of the Saeima. The latter can decide to end the mandate in camera. In order to do this a majority of two thirds of MP's is required. The President of the Republic's mandate can be renewed once. Any Latvian citizen whose is at least forty years old can accede to the position. The President represents the State on an international level, he appoints the country's diplomatic representatives and accredits the foreign diplomatic ambassadors. He is the head of the army and leads the National Security Council; he also has the right to amnesty. The President can also pronounce the dissolution of the Saeima after a positive popular referendum. New general elections must then take place within the two months following this. Finally the President has the power to suggest new laws for MP's to vote on.
At 65 years old, Vaira Vike-Freiberga is about to start her second mandate at the head of the Latvian state. The President who is a polyglot, speaks four other languages apart from Latvian; French, English, German and Spanish. She lived in Germany and Morocco, before going to Canada where she taught psychology from 1965 to 1998 at the University of Montreal. During her years in exile, Vaira Vike-Freiberga undertook much research on the Dainas, traditional Latvian songs. She was elected President of the Republic on 17th June 1999 and became the first woman to exercise this function in Eastern Europe. Since she was first elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, has always featured amongst the most popular political figures in Latvia. Her popularity did however fall a few months ago, dropping from 62.1% to 46.3% of favourable opinions according the polls undertaken by Latvijas Fakti after her decision to support the American intervention in Iraq. Her re-election as head of the country was however supported by 74% of Latvians according to a survey undertaken in May by SKDS. The President has said that she is in favour of the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage instead of the present parliamentary election - this is an idea that most Latvians say they are in favour of.
The President who dedicated her first mandate to winning her country's membership of the EU and NATO ought now to be able to ensure a positive vote in the referendum on the country's European integration that is to take place on 20th September next. Latvia features amongst the candidate countries as the State having the most Eurosceptics and will be the last to organise its referendum. Just before her re-election, Vaira Vike-Freiberga said, "it is inconceivable for the Latvians to vote "no" to the referendum (...) I think that the moment will come when a decision has to be taken; the Latvian electorate will see the other candidate countries and will ask themselves whether we ought to be the only ones to remain outside of the EU on 1st May 2004.". The President insisted on pointing out that the work achieved over the last few years was just as important as the founding of the Latvian State at the start of the 20th century. "It is an irreversible phase and historically important when Latvia proved that it was able to regain its freedom and independence as a State and also integrate and develop within a free world. We should now work towards enabling Latvia to participate in the decision making processes beyond its borders, and for it to defend its interests and make its voice heard", she said.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga will take up her post on 8th July when she will be sworn in.