Saeima re-elects Vīķe-Freiberga as president

In an 88-6 vote during a special meeting of the Saeima, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has been re-elected president of Latvia.

The 65-year-old Vīķe-Freiberga, first elected as a compromise candidate four years ago, was the only candidate considered this time by the 100-seat parliament. Her second term will expire in 2007.

In a speech immediately after her re-election, Vīķe-Freiberga thanked legislators for their overwhelming support.

“I see it as a sign,” the president said, “that we in Latvia are able to unite over those major goals and ideals that we would like to see brought to life.”

Vīķe-Freiberga has managed to maintain consistently high popularity, despite being someone who returned to Latvia after five decades of exile and despite a few unpopular decisions. Most recently, she was criticized by some for her support of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

A few critics also questioned why members of the ruling coalition pushed for an earlier presidential election in March. A vote in the Saeima was originally set for March 12, but was canceled after legal experts suggested such a move could cause constitutional problems.

In Latvia, the president is elected by parliament, although some political leaders have pushed for a switch to a direct election by voters. At least 51 members of parliament have to support a candidate for him or her to be elected president.

The role of president is largely symbolic, with day-to-day management of the country given to the prime minister and the Cabinet of Ministers. But Vīķe-Freiberga, who holds the distinction of being the first woman president of an Eastern European nation, has used her office to draw attention to Latvia especially as it sought and won invitations to join both the European Union and the NATO defense alliance.

Vīķe-Freiberga, at the time a dual citizen of Canada and Latvia, was elected in 1999 after the parliament failed to choose a president from a slate of five candidates. A retired psychology professor at the Universite de Montreal, Vīķe-Freiberga had returned to Latvia to run the Latvian Institute, a government-sponsored effort aimed at shaping the nation’s image abroad. To become president, she had to renounce her Canadian citizenship.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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