Date: 29 May 2019
New Presidents in Latvia and Lithuania
In one country, a president has been elected by a popular vote, in the other – by a vote of the parliament. The method of choosing the head of state is connected with the scope of presidential power. The President of Lithuania has far greater powers than the President of Latvia. Both new leaders have centre-right views, they are definitely pro-European and see the futures of their countries in NATO. Therefore, one should not expect the two newly-elected presidents to change the current political courses of their countries.
On Wednesday, May 29, the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima, elected a new president. Egils Levits, the candidate of a recently formed five-party government coalition, won the first round of the voting, getting 61 votes (out of 93 possible). Until now, Levits has been a judge of the European Court of Justice. He is 63 years old. Earlier, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Latvia’s Minister of Justice. He will take office on July 8 when Raimonds Vejonis’s term comes to an end. The term of office of the President of Latvia lasts four years. The president performs mainly ceremonial functions; in fact, he does not have many great powers which would provide him with real political power.
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The President of Lithuania has much more to say in his own country than his Latvian counterpart does in Latvia. As it turns out, Gitanas Nauseda will be the one who will take up the highest state position. The decision was made by the people of Lithuania on May 26. Running as an independent candidate, the former chief adviser to the President of SEB Bank obtained 74% of the vote, decisively defeating his rival, Ingrida Šimonytė, a candidate put forward by the Lithuanian conservatives. In the first round of the election, both candidates received similar support, however, in the decisive clash, as predicted, the majority of the leftist electorate shifted their votes to non-partisan Nauseda. Although Nauseda has centre-right views, many voters preferred him to the candidate of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats. Nauseda is pro-European, which implies that he will follow a policy adopted by his predecessor Dalia Grybauskaite towards Russia (she is known for being one of the toughest critics of Moscow). Warsaw should be satisfied with the choice of Nauseda. The new president has repeatedly spoken about Poland with much warmth. He has said that he wants to strengthen cooperation between Lithuania and Poland, which is why, he is going to make his first foreign state visit to Poland. First, however, he has to deal with the government crisis in Lithuania. This will be Nauseda’s first task right after being sworn into office on July 12. Three days after the presidential election, the co-ruling parties announced the dissolution of the existing coalition and informed that negotiations on a new agreement have already begun. Despite losing three elections in a row (local, presidential and European), the largest group in the parliament, the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVZS), decided not to join the opposition. Instead, the party together with its Social Democratic allies intends to expand the coalition.
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