Levits will not seek second term as Latvian president

Levits will not seek second term as Latvian president
President Levits' withdrawal appears to boost Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics' chances (pictured). / Latvian MFA
By Linas Jegelevicius in Vilnius May 11, 2023

Latvian President Egils Levits will not seek a second term in the presidential elections later this month,  he announced on Twitter on May 11, in a decision that could open the way for Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics to take over. 

"Taking into account the currently developing de facto coalition among pro-Kremlin oriented and oligarch-linked political forces, I have decided not to participate in the presidential elections on May 31," Levits wrote.

The announcement came the same day that businessman Uldis Pilens, leader of the United List group in the ruling coalition, officially submitted his candidacy, and as the leading coalition grouping, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins' New Unity List, nominated Rinkevics. New Unity had previously backed Levits.

The opposition Progressives have nominated party public governance expert Elina Pinto as the party's presidential candidate.

As recently as April 19, Levits had released a statement – which remains on the presidential website – saying he would run for a second term. His change of heart appears to be a result of the challenge of strong alternative candidates proposed by the coalition parties in the elections, which take place in the parliament.

In a lengthy explanation of the U-turn on the presidential website, Levits said he wanted the ruling three-party coalition to agree on a common candidate that could take office without the support of what he deemed pro-Kremlin and oligarch-linked parties. 

Levits' departing broadside appears to be directed in Pilens' direction. Levits invited Pilens to step aside too in the interests of coalition unity. 

"I invite the other candidate supported by the coalition partner to do the same. This will allow the current coalition to agree on a common presidential candidate in the interests of the Latvian state," he said, describing a second term as "not an end in itself for me".

"There is a real possibility that the decisive votes in the election of the president could be from parties that do not represent Latvia's Latvian and Western course," he warned.

Levits' withdrawal appears to boost Rinkevics' chances. Having taken up his current post back in October 2011, Rinkevics is by some distance Latvia's longest-serving foreign minister of all time. He has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine for many years and a stern critic of the regime in Russia.

While undoubtedly capable and calm, Rinkevics is not considered particularly charismatic as a public speaker – which may count against him for the role of head of state. However, he is an effective communicator in English, French and Russian as well as Latvian and is well-known and well-respected internationally.

Rinkevics  thanked his colleagues in New Unity and Karins for putting their trust in him, and emphasised that the main task of the next president was internal and external security, taking into account the profound changes in the international arena and Russia's war against Ukraine.

Lelde Metla-Rozentale, assistant professor of the Department of Political Science at Riga Stradins University, told Latvian Radio that Rinkevics is a popular politician with domestic and international political experience. "Putting such a player on the field makes the game more intriguing," said the political scientist.