14/05/2007 - Analysis
On 6th June next the 100 members of the Saiema, the only Chamber in Parliament, will elect the successor to Vaira Vike-Freiberga as President of the Republic. This presidential election will take place just as Latvia is experiencing a troubled political period. On 10th March last the President of the Republic, with the support of article 72 of the Constitution, refused to sign two laws approved by Parliament with regard to national security. The latter which were adopted, according to the President, without previous debate and in haste (the government implied that it was a matter of urgency), may destabilise the authorities. The two laws subordinate national security to the political control of the Prime Minister thereby increasing the control and powers of intervention of politicians in security services and the national security agency, thereby enabling it to monitor other special services. Vaira Vike-Freiberga made it clear that these laws are the doorway to "political manipulation" and that they increase the danger of "investigations undertaken by oligarchs". The President of the Republic repeated that the national security agencies should remain absolutely independent.
In line with the Constitution the Head of State's rejection has led to the organisation of a campaign to collate signatures to appeal for the organisation of a referendum on the two laws. For this to be organised the national petition has to be signed by at least 10% of those registered on the electoral rolls during the general elections on 7th October last , a quarter i.e. around 143,300 people had already signed between 3rd April and 2nd May. Around 215,000 people have now signed the petition i.e. 15% of those registered and so the referendum will take place ironically on 7th July, the day when the presidential term in office for Vaira Vike-Freiberga comes to an end.
The Presidential Function
The Presidency of the Republic is essentially an honorary position in Latvia. The Head of State is elected for a four year term in office by the absolute majority of the 100 members in the Saiema who vote by secret ballot. The President of the Republic represents the State internationally, appoints the country's diplomatic representatives and accredits foreign diplomatic representatives. The President is the head of the armed forces and leads the National Security Council and also has the right to amnesty.
The Head of State can put laws forward as well as propose the dissolution of the Saeima. If during a public consultation the majority of the electorate votes for dissolution the Saeima is considered dissolved and new general elections are organised within the two months following dissolution. However if more than half of the electorate votes against dissolution the President of the Republic has to resign from his post and the Saeima elects his/her successor for the remaining time left to the President in office. On the request of at least half of the MPs the President of the Republic can be impeached by the Saeima during a closed session and by the majority of two thirds of its members. In this case the Saeima immediately elects a new President of the Republic.
The President's mandate is renewable once. The position is open to any Latvian aged 40 and over. Candidates have to make themselves known at least 45 days before the end of the term in office of the present Head of State.
A Review of the Eight Year Term in Office undertaken by Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Sixty-nine year old Vaira Vike-Freiberga will end her second term in office as Head of Latvia brilliantly. Born in the capital Riga in 1937 the President of the Republic left the country with her parents when she was seven. 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 a great amount of research on the Dainas, traditional Latvian songs. Ms Vike-Freiberga is a polyglot; in addition to Latvian the President speaks four other languages: French, English, German and Spanish. She returned to her native country in 1998 to manage the Institute of Latvia, an organisation that aims to promote the country around the world. Elected President of the Republic for the first time on 17th June 1999 (to do this she had to give up her Canadian nationality since the Constitution does not allow the Head of State to have dual nationality), she became the first woman to occupy this position in Eastern Europe. Since her first election Vaira Vike-Freiberga has always been amongst her fellow countrymen's most popular political personalities, winning between 70% and 80% of positive opinions. The President of the Republic has also always said she supported the election of the Head of State by direct universal suffrage instead of the election by Parliament, an idea which most Latvians also support according to the polls.
Ms Vike-Freiberga, who is very active in international relations and at the UN, has dedicated much of her energy to winning her country's accession to NATO and the European Union which it joined on May 1st 2004. She has also asked for Russia to acknowledge the occupation of the Baltic States by Soviet troops; on a domestic level she has always succeeded in playing a moral, moderating role well beyond her legal prerogatives.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga announced on 15th September last that she would stand for the position of UN Secretary General. But the Security Council had already decided to appoint an Asian. The President of the Republic did however have the honour of seeing her country chosen to host the NATO Summit on 28th and 29th October 2006. During a recent speech Vaira Vike-Freiberga recalled the importance of protecting Latvian identity, a fight she has undertaken all her life. During her two terms in office she acquired an undeniable international reputation for the value of her vision and courage. She provided Latvia with profile and unhoped-for acknowledgement and she maintains continuous relations with all the major personalities in the world arena.
Four personalities are standing at present for the Presidential position:
- Sandra Kalniete, 54 years old, born in Siberia where her family had been deported to by the Soviet authorities (she tells of her childhood in a book "With dancing shoes in Siberian snows"). In 1989, she headed the writers' union and was one of the leading personalities in the Latvian revolution and the return of independence. A diplomat she was first an assistant to the Foreign Minister from 1990 to 1993 then Ambassador for country at the UN in Geneva (1993-1997), in France (1997-2002) and at UNESCO (2000-2002). In 2002, she became Foreign Minister in the government led by Einars Repse (New Era, JL). An extremely popular, impressive personality Sandra Kalniete is well known beyond the borders of Latvia where she is greatly respected. A member of the Convention on the future of Europe and responsible for writing the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe she was appointed European Commissioner in May to November 2004 in the Commission led by Romano Prodi. An MP, she is the main opposition party's (New Era JL) candidate but her influence will probably rally votes from wider horizons than this.
- Dainis Ivans, the candidate put forward by the Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP). He is a present member of the town council of Riga and in 1986 he initiated the press campaign for the protection of the valley of the Dagauva before being elected two years later as chairman of the Popular Front (LTF).
- Maris Riekstins, present advisor to the Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis (the People's Party, TP), is the candidate put forward by the People's Party of which he became a member. On 27th April last 68 party delegates voted for him versus 30 who supported Regional Development and Municipal Affairs Minister, Aigars Stokenbergs (TP). Maris Riekstins has sound international experience, he was Ambassador in the US and Mexico and worked for 10 years as Secretary of State for the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
- Karina Petersone, 53 years old, Vice-President of the Saiema and present Culture Minister. Former director of the Foundation for the National Library, Karina Petersone is the candidate put forward by the First Party of Latvia (LPP) and Latvia's Way (LC).
The Union for the Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) said that it supported the appointment of a candidate by the government coalition. If the parties did not come to an agreement it indicated it would appoint its candidate on 19th May next. Ainars Slesers, leader of the First Party of Latvia also maintained on 12th May that he was in favour of the parties in government presenting a joint candidate in this presidential election, someone who was above the parties. As for the opposition, For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PVTCL) is not putting a candidate forward but will support the personality it believes to be the most neutral.
The first rounds of the presidential election are most often the time to measure the forces at large and the power struggles ongoing between the various parties in Parliament. Many political analysts believe that serious matters only start after one or two rounds of voting. "This time the presidential election will be long and difficult, much more so than the previous ones. The situation is difficult because of the internal relations between the political parties such as popularity and the renown of the present Head of State," said Andris Runcis, political science professor at the University of Latvia – who says that this presidential election is one of the most exciting since the country regained its independence. "When Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected in 1999 she won at the end of the race, it was like a last minute compromise. Who knows who the last minute candidate will be this time?" he wonders.
Prime Minister Aigras Kalvitis said that he wanted a President of the Republic who was internationally oriented. For her part the present Head of State Vaira Vike-Freiberga indicated that the President of the Republic should not be linked to any political party.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga's term in office as Head of State comes to an end on 7th July.