Latvia (President) 2011
An indirect presidential election was held in Latvia on June 2, 2011. I don’t usually cover these indirect elections as they tend to be quite dull, but this one occurs right in the midst of a political crisis in the small Baltic state and was quite interesting. The last general election in the economically troubled country was held in October 2010 and saw Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ governing coalition composed of the centre-right Unity coalition and the centrist green-agrarian alliance reelected with a majority. But the country has been going through a political crisis, with the legislature at odds with the executive.
At the root of the crisis is a corruption probe into prominent right-wing politician Ainārs Šlesers, accused of graft. The Saiemas, Latvia’s unicameral legislature, rejected a law which would have limited Šlesers’ immunity and allowed him to be punished. The Latvian President, who is elected to a four-year term by the Saiemas, Valdis Zatlers, accused the legislature of being soft on corruption and announced the dissolution of Parliament. Latvia’s President is constitutionally allowed to dissolve Parliament, but doing so involves great political risk to him as a referendum ratifying the dissolution must be held, and the dissolution will only be valid if voters ratify the President’s decision in a referendum. If the President’s decision is rejected by voters, he must resign his office. As such, it had never been used since independence in 1991. A referendum ratifying Zatler’s decision will be held on July 23.
Valdis Zatlers, a centre-right politician in office since 2007, was presumed to be coasting to reelection until he got into that nasty spat with the Saiema. Two days before the nomination deadline, five deputies nominated Andris Bērziņš, a former bank director and politician from the green-agrarian Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS).
In a first round held on Thursday, Bērziņš won 50 votes in favour and 48 against while Zatlers won 43 in favour and 55 against. In a second round held later, Bērziņš won 53 votes to 44 in favour while Zatlers got 41 votes in favour to 56 against. It is hard to guess how the partisan breakup of the vote looked like, Bērziņš probably getting ZZS’ votes, maybe the votes of the Russian left-wing Harmony Centre and probably the corrupt cronies from the ‘For a Good Latvia’ alliance of which Šlesers is a prominent member.
Zatlers was most likely defeated by parliamentarians angry at his decision to dissolve Parliament and alienated from the President after the verbal spat between the two branches of government. There is a not-so-cool story to all this. The people might side with Zatlers, given that Latvians largely distrust their politicians and think that politics is run by corrupt oligarchs, thus an attitude which goes along well with Zatlers’ corruption crusade. The rejection of the immunity-lifting law and Zatlers’ defeat might be the work of these ‘oligarch-politicians’ who are not so keen on having one of their clan investigated. However, Bērziņš has said he won’t be the pawn of oligarchs.
It is my understanding that Zatlers’ dissolution will stick and a referendum will be held in July. I do not, however, know if President-elect Bērziņš would be forced to resign office if the referendum is defeated considering that the dissolution was pronounced by Zatlers rather than Bērziņš himself.