Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dubious Man Elected Through Dubious Process

Some readers have noted I failed to make any comments regarding the new President of Latvia, who took office while I was away, on July 8. Well it's over a month now, but in the interests of completeness I will say a few words about him.

Dr. Valdis Zatlers is his name. He achieved a narrow first-round victory in a parliamentary vote held on May 31, beating former supreme court justice Aivars Endzins.

The election was one of the most contentious in Latvia's democratic history, reflecting the fact that the once-symbolic presidency has become a more powerful and important office in recent years. Both candidates were controversial for different reasons. Endzins was a former Communist who was on record defending the Soviet occupation of his country, which needless to say rubbed some people the wrong way. But at least he had political experience, which was more than could be said of Dr. Zatlers, who although an accomplished physician, never held any sort of elected or appointed office of government.

Zalter's election was also controversial because many Latvians have grown to dislike the rather old-fashioned and unaccountable way in which their presidents are elected. Dr. Zatlers was, by all accounts, the less popular candidate with the general public, but that fact didn't matter since the general public doesn't get to elect their president directly. Zatler was parliament's choice, but that's not necessarily a good thing, as many Latvians hold their parliament in rather low regard.

But now he's in office. It remains to be seen whether he will be a dynamic and strong president like his predecessor, the popular Vaira Vike-Freiberga, or merely a puppet of the country's oligarchical elites, as many of his opponents fear.

Here's a fine Latvian-written editorial on the new fellow and the controversies surrounding him:

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