Valdis Zatlers becomes Latvia’s 7th president

In just one round of voting, Latvia’s parliament has elected doctor Valdis Zatlers as the country’s seventh president. Zatlers received 58 votes in the 100-seat Saeima, seven more than the 51 required.

His opponent, former Constitutional Court Justice Aivars Endziņš, received 39 votes.

Hundreds of protestors and supporters lined the street outside the parliament building in Rīga as deputies arrived for debates.

With both presidential candidates carrying black marks in their biographies, the runup to the May 31 vote certainly was colorful. Zatlers in recent days had received criticism for accepting bribes from patients and failing to report the extra income, while Endziņš’ past as a member of the Communist Party was called into question.

The 52-year-old Zatlers was a last-minute candidate, a compromise offered by the four political parties that make up Latvia’s coalition government. Endziņš, meanwhile, was proposed by Harmony Centre (Saskaņas Centrs), an opposition party. A third candidate, former foreign minister Sandra Kalniete and a member of the opposition New Era (Jaunais laiks), withdrew the night of May 24 and threw her support to Endziņš.

Zatlers is chairman of the board of the Hospital of Traumotology and Orthopaedics in Rīga.

Immediately after the election results were announced, Zatlers gave a very brief acceptance speech, paraphrasing Latvian writer Rūdolfs Blaumanis’ famous quote, “Mans zelts ir mana tauta, mans gods ir viņas gods” (My gold is my people, my honor is their honor).

Zatlers will replace two-term president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, whose eight years in office end July 7.

The president-elect faced a rough start just minutes after the vote. As he left the Saeima building, he was greeted by shouts of “Aploksnes!” (Envelopes!), a reference to the under-the-table payments he has admitted to taking while treating patients.

And minutes after that during a press conference, he faced tough questioning from some in the media about the bribes he took from patients and for failing to pay income taxes. One reporter asked whether with his election corruption has been legalized in Latvia. Zatlers said he intends to lead by example and will soon meet with authorities to pay up back taxes.

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

15 thoughts on “Valdis Zatlers becomes Latvia’s 7th president

  1. What a shame – a crocked tax evader beat out a former communist to become the next president of Latvia. Then again, I very much recall Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga from my Montreal days and she wasn’t the big Latvian that she so hard tried the media to paint her as.

  2. I wanted Aivars Endziņš to win he is much better candidate and higher percent of people were for him. But because people do not elect their president, there were an expected outcome, party that has a majority will vote for its candidate. It is sad for Latvia, they they they have democratic government, but it does not look like it. What are they afraid of. I think they are afraid of people will elect someone that opposes everything that they did. But it is just my opinion.

  3. A national tragedy – up to the last day, it did not seem possible the Latvian people would let it happen. In the 1930s, the people were led like sheep by Ulmanis. If he returned in 2007, he would find nothing had changed.

  4. I read a good deal about Zatlers before the election (nothing that elicited enthusiasm) and almost nothing about Endziņš. Being an ex-Communist in itself does not prove much; Berklāvs and Pelše were both party members, but are remembered differently. But Z is in now, so one can only hope for the best.
    Egons Lasis’ comment seems quite uncalled for; Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga was as patriotic a Latvian as I have met, was quite active in Latvian affairs, and did fine research on Latvian topics–short of wearing the red-white-red flag whenever she went out, what more should she have done?

  5. Zatler’s appointment as President of Latvia just proves that Latvians do not live in a democracy. Support for Endzins was overwhelming, so why isn’t he president? Zatler was appointed by Parliament, not elected by the Latvian people, so that Parliament would have a presidential pawn, someone that can be manipulated by the whim of the “grey cardinals” running the Latvian government
    Latvians do not even vote for members of parliament, they vote for a party, and they place their good ole boys in power, again, in disregard for the wishes of the populace. Look at the Ainars Slesers phenomenon.
    Regarding the pending referendum on the demise of the goverment, you can be assurred Zalter will do everything in his power to keep the government intact. Zatlers action are predicted, and will be contrary to the wishes of the Latvian people who have demonstrated their lack of confidence in the current parliament.
    Latvia is not a democracy, its a little former chechist country where police and prosecuters are easily bought; the good ole boys get away with their mischief or do not get prosecuted at all.

  6. It’s not as simple as merely accusing Latvians of not living in a democracy, as asserted in the previous post. The world is full of half-baked, imperfect democracies, like Russia for one. The problem in Latvia is the grotesque “democracy” of Putin’s Russia controlling and manipulating the politics of Latvia. The problem internally in Latvia is the weakness of ethnic Latvians and those loyal to Latvia not standing their ground against Russia and Russian-identified Latvians for the survivial of the Latvian nation as a free state independent from Russia. I believe this is about the survival of Latvia. Endzins was not the answer. There were two awful candidates hoisted to presidential prominence by corrupt, greedy, disloyal Saeime deputies. How the Latvian people ever elected such a disturbing, banal bunch is another problem. The organization of the Saeime needs constitutional reform. It was a sad choice for Latvia to have a contest for the “moral” head of the Latvian state be a “race to the bottom” between a suspiciously corruptible, “gift-envelope”-taking nobody doctor and an “occupation-denier” “former” Communist Party member. Can anyone imagine in Israel a “reformed” holocaust-denier as one of two candidates for the presidency of Israel? Also, another survival lesson from Israel, as the Jewish-Latvian-Israeli Frank Gordon wrote in a recent column in the Latvian newspaper, LAIKS, (7-13 April, 2007) neither Israel nor Latvia can afford to be “divu tautu valsts” (two nation states) because they will cease to exist. Latvians don’t seem to understand that they are a “world minority” – the “Aborigines on the Latvian Reservation” and the survival priority trumps all other minority claims.

  7. I knew Dr. Valdis Zatlers quite well from my teaching trips to Latvia. He is not a “nobody doctor”. It was a little surprising, however, to see him become Latvia’s next president.
    The gift taking issue has been blown out of proportion by those trying to discredit him. It is the Latvian way to bring something for the doctor, either in gratitude or to ingratiate themselves with him.
    I know Valdis is a true Latvian who will fight for Latvia and “Latvietibu”.

  8. This whole mess highlights a much bigger problem than simply wether Zatlers is fit to be President.

    This is another example of the cynicism with which Latvian politicians and the agencies responsible for enforcing laws treat politicians and their friends.

    There is very little, if any, difference between what Zatlers and Aris Auders have done.

    Auders fo course was convicted(he of course is not Tautas Partija), but everyone from Kalvītis to VID (equivilent to the IRS)are now busy making excuses for Zatlers that they rejected when they were presented first presented in his onw defence by Auders.

    The media, as well, with few exceptions have been silent in reporting these aspects and have mostly stayed away from issues the apologists for Zatlers do not seem to have ready answers for.

    The sad conclusion is that it is difficult to forsee that Latvia will have a responsible government or that the justice system will truly dealing similarily and fairly with all.

  9. No, it is NOT the Latvian way to bring something for the doctor. Such traditions are in abundance further to the east, like in the republics of Uzbekistan, Tatarstan, etc. As prof. Rasma Karklins writes in today’s (June 7) Diena, 62.4% of respondents in Latvia have told that such payments to doctors are corrupt. And that was in 2005, today it should be more. It is just that the ruling coalition wants their man to be the president and are defaming Latvia for the sake of it! If Mr. Zatlers has taken bribes, so better believe bribes to be ok, than remove Zatlers.

  10. With regard to Mr.Eglitis comment I was referring to token gifts, not bribes. That would be unacceptable. Coming from a Latvian who grew up outside Latvia, I feel that it is time to move on and address the big issues: the decreasing population, the low birth rate and reversing sixty years of Russian colonisation. I am sure Dr.Zatlers is up to the task.

  11. I feel that nobody here has been living in Latvia for any length of time. It is one thing to judge about politics happening in latvia from outside and quite another to live here. In the country where you can hardly trust anyone, the wave of freedom is gone. Welcome to corrupt, infected with unwelcome investment from east, country strugling to find it’s own identity. Whe should stick to the roots, to the culture,that would strenghten us, yet we are led by bunch of money grabbing thieves who couldn’t care less about culture or people. Sorry about the gloomy words and I do hope the revolution comes soon. Or it might be too late.

  12. to Dr. j. bauman,

    I think the latvian tradition you’re looking for is to find the most unqualified person available, perferably with a little dirt attached, and make him president, at least this year. Considering that Endzins was also a candidate, and Egils Levits would have been in the second round, I dont see how anyone, in sane mind, could have supported Zatlers over either of those two. I find it amazing that you’re granting cover to this total charade called democracy. The ruling coalition kept Zalters a secret candidate until the last moment, and then pulled him out of a hat. Public opinion polls were against it, no justification was given for why he was the best candidate, because why bother if you’re in the majority, because this coalition rules by fiat, and f*ck the electorate, illustrated so clearly by Janis Lagdzins’ gesture of `up yours’ to the crowds outside parliament that fine day. Or Kalvitis referring to those opposed to Zatlers as `kvekski.’

    Zatlers already has started off with a adverserial relationship with the press, refusing to answer questions regarding the so called bribery, saying there were more important things for the nation to discuss. When another `journalist’ asked about how his wife is doing, this is called a `civilized’ question.

    So VVF says the sword of Damocles is hanging over parliament, but is Zatlers, already damaged by his inability to speak to the media, his inexperience, his apparent ignorance, (asking Diena why KNAB needs a rapid reaction force, the kind that arrested Lembergs), surrounded by advisors from the People’s Party, going to be able to pull the trigger if its true that a rather large part of parliament is on Lembergs’ payroll?

    Now we have a government attack on state television, because we need the “good news” not something that could be damaging.

    How can you in good conscience lend support to any of this?

  13. It seems to me that comments about the new President of Latvia Dr. Zatlers and the other candidate Endzins can be really relevant only if they are made by people who have lived recently in Latvia for at least several years. There are glaring contradictions in comments so far. Thus, Stephen Reynolds has “read almost nothing” about Endzins, and yet this ex-Communist seems to him a better candidate! But I agree with Reynolds’ defense of Vaira Vike-Freiberga’s outstanding record. Because of the vast, dark cloud of ignorance about Endzins and the question how genuine or merely strategic is his retreat from the evil Communist doctrine evident from some comments and my personal contacts in Latvia, how does Dmitrijs Evans know that a “higher percent of people were for him”? How many thousands of people in Latvia did he interview concerning their views about Endzins and Zatlers? Or is this bold statement of a precise knowledge of the mind of the Latvian nation just fueled by a personal dislike of Zatlers?

  14. To Tovarish Bojars,

    Its clear from reading your comment that you either don’t live in Latvia or if you do are completely unaware of the maelstrom the election of Zatlers stirred up. How does Dmitrijs Evans know that more people were for Endzins, I’d guess he’s referring to the survey data that were released by Latvijas Fakti shortly before the election, showing a wide gap in support for the well-known Endzins and the unknown Zatlers. Whatever you may say about Endzins’ past, he’s at least admitted it, and admitted he was wrong, and he joined the Tautas Fronte early on. His work as a judge at the highest court in the country, Satversmes Tiesa, shows that he’s independent, unafraid of conflict with corrupt politicians. Skele tried to influence the court and even threatened to close it down, to no avail. When Vike-Freiberga rightly suspended the security laws, the first time a president used that constitutional power, she said the laws opened up the security services to “oligarch influence.’’ Who were the oligarchs? No one would say, not even the president, until Endzins stepped forward and named names. Saying things openly makes him very uncomfortable for the ruling coalition, and so we have Zatlers, a guy with no political experience, one who said on tv he doesn’t know who the oligarchs are and doesn’t want to know. If we’re hunting for evidence of the hammer and sickle look no further than a coalition who plucks a guy out of obscurity, unaware, ignorant, and with a little dirt attached, discredited and weak. Why? Because this president may be called upon to dissolve parliament, the sword of Damocles that Vike-Freiberga mentioned in her final speech, and its clear that Endzins or Levits are strong enough to make that decision, just like Vike-Freiberga. Zalters?

    I’d prefer Latvia continue to head in the direction of our Nordic neighbors, good governance, high standards of living, low levels of corruption, instead sometimes it looks like we’re sinking back into the muck.

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