The moderate part of the Latvian elite strived for preservation of its central role in governing the country and for prevention of a nationalistic stooge from becoming the president. To do that, they made use of covert support from an opposition group of the parliament, which gave the needed 11 votes for the re-election of moderate candidate for president Raimonds Vejonis.
On June 3 the Latvian parliament elected a new president.
The presidential elections could have gone under the two following scenarios: either as a demonstration of consolidation of the ruling coalition, capable of fielding a single candidate and granting him votes, or as a repetition of real elections and voting for a compromise figure.
Many experts inclined to the second scenario. But the elections made a surprising turn and followed the third scenario. It is usually actuated for elections of top figures in the Latvian parliament when the government is ruled by the minority, and the ruling coalition is forced to make deals with opposition parties.
Why has it happened this time, when the ruling coalition occupies the majority of seats? The problem lurks in the controversies between the moderate and the nationalistic parts of the Latvian elite. Nationalists attempted to break the balance of power between the three ruling parties, fielding popular conservative Egils Levits as the candidate for president. Notably, 24 years ago Mr. Levits was one of the proponents insisting on legal restoration of the pre-war Latvian Republic, which resulted in revocation of Latvian citizenship for the majority of the Russian population of Latvia. He was also the author of the scandalous preamble of the Constitution of Latvia. The preamble postulated the gist of Latvia's existence as a state of the Latvian nation exclusively. In light of the current acute conflict between the EU and Russia, nationalists hoped that they would mobilize the society and part of lawmakers from other groups to elect an austere nationalistic hardliner. If they succeeded, the influence of the far rights would have gained a lot more ground in Latvia, and the conduct of the elite would have resembled the bellicose acts of the ruling Lithuanian politicians.
The moderate part of the Latvian elite strived for preservation of its central role in governing the country and for prevention of a nationalistic stooge from becoming the president. To do that, they made use of covert support from an opposition group of the parliament, which gave the needed 11 votes for the re-election of moderate candidate for president Raimonds Vejonis. It is hard to say which of the groups lent support because the voting process was secret and all the three opposition parties are outright denying the "rent" of their members. However, judging by the size of the group and its previous records of assistance to ruling coalitions in similar situations, we can deduce that Vejonis got the secret votes from a part of the Social Democratic Party "Harmony". The backbone of the party's voters consists of Russian citizens in Latvia.
Why has the moderate part of the Latvian establishment refused to publicize the support from the "Russian group"? The reason for that is the following - "Harmony" are deemed to be "untouchables" in the parliament. For many years, even hints at admitting the party to the ruling coalition have been ruled out. The shadow of a "Kremlin stooge" would have been casted on the president – who was overtly favoured by Russians – in the eyes of the Latvian majority and Western allies of Latvia.
New President Raimonds Vejonis is an exceptionally cautious and even-tempered politician. He is also very industrious. He has outlasted many prime ministers and ruling coalitions on ministerial posts. After becoming the president, he would hardly pursue a die-hard anti-Russian rhetoric inspired by Dalia Grybauskaite. Yet, Vejonis should not be expected to advocate lifting of anti-Russian sanctions either. Indisputably, Mr. Vejonis has significant potential in mending cooperation with the Russian Federation, but he will only show what he is really made of after normalization of relations between the EU and Russia.
Vejonis will soon need to win sympathy from his nationalistic competitor Levits' supporters, which means about a third of Latvia. Vejonis' inner rhetoric will be dominated by "military and patriotic" themes, he will mechanically continue making speeches on issues the society got used to during his service as the defense minister. This, by the way, is one of the setbacks of the new president: the society expects him to show charisma and a broad view on problems, new courses in economic development, social sector and demography. If Vejonis succeeds in holding himself out as the father of the nation, his practical earthiness will soon become a subject of mockery.
Mr. Vejonis will develop the relations with the European Union and the US in the spirit of polite loyalty. He will orderly continue playing the role of a junior partner, albeit without fanatical support to the foreign political escapades of his senior brothers. He will doubtlessly back the project of deploying American troops and shooting up military expenditures.
The first prearranged test for Vejonis will be to demonstrate his position on upping taxes again at the autumnal budget debates this year. Since the recent presidential polls have exacerbated the schism between the moderate and the nationalistic wings of the Latvian elite, the government may tumble during the budget adoption. The new president would then get an opportunity to correct the course of the country's development, fielding a more dynamic leader for the prime ministerial seat than the current head of government.