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.
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