By Andris Straumanis
Two leading exile organizations have expressed their support for the re-election of Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, whose first four-year term in office ends in July.
The World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules br?vo latviešu apvien?ba, or PBLA) and the American Latvian Association (Amerikas latviešu apvien?ba, or ALA) say Zatlers has proven himself a capable leader and urge the parliament to re-elect him.
Zatlers is the only person who has declared his candidacy for president, although several other politicians have been mentioned. Under the Latvian constitution, the president is elected by a simple majority of the 100-member Saeima.
Zatlers in 2007 replaced two-term President Vaira V??e-Freiberga, who was Latvia’s first female president. He was elected with 58 votes and was a compromise candidate offered by the coalition government. At the time, Zatlers was chairman of the board of the Hospital of Traumotology and Orthopaedics in R?ga. Critics opposed his election because of his lack of political experience and because he admitted accepting bribes from patients—a common practice in Latvia’s health care system.
However, both the PBLA and ALA applauded Zatlers’s performance as president.
“In the past four years, Valdis Zatlers has become a statesman who is respected in Latvia and internationally, and who is politically independent of those who elected him,” M?rti?š Sausi?š, chairman of the PBLA, wrote in a May 20 letter to the Saeima.
The president has properly represented Latvia abroad and has strengthened ties with allies, Sausi?š wrote. He has the done the right thing when necessary, such as after the January 2009 riot in R?ga’s Old Town district, when he issued an ultimatum to the government and the Saeima that put an end to the so-called “locomotive principle” in parliamentary elections.
In dealings with the diaspora, Sausi?š wrote, Zatlers has been very responsive on issues of interest to Latvians abroad. For example, the president has supported renewing dual citizenship for Latvians abroad, supported the Museum of the Occupation, and backed the teaching of Latvian history as a separate subject in Latvian schools.
The ALA adopted a resolution during its 60th anniversary annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wis., supporting the re-election of Zatlers.
“The ALA supports the election of V. Zatlers to a second term not only because during these four years he has grown into the office and done much for the sake of Latvia, but also because we know that for him the law, morality and ethics are not unfamiliar concepts,” ALA Chairman Juris Mežinskis and Public Affairs Director J?nis Kukainis wrote in a May 18 announcement.
Among the ALA’s priorities are encouraging U.S. economic investment in Latvia.
“Unfortunately,” Mežinsksi and Kukainis wrote, “we spend much time polishing Latvia’s image, because in the West there remains a perception that Latvia is governed by the rule of money, not the rule of law.”
A second term for Zatlers, as well as the continued work of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovsksi, are important for Latvia’s emergence for economic crisis, they wrote.
While a number of political parties have lined up in whole or in part behind Zatlers, it is not completely clear that he will gain the 51 votes needed to return as president. Political observers have mentioned parliamentary Speaker Solvita ?bolti?a, a member of the Unity coalition, as a potential candidate should Zatlers not get enough ballots on the Saeima’s first vote.
Andris Straumanis is editor of Latvians Online.