Latvia's foreign minister to run in presidential election

FILE - Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics talks to journalists on second day of the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Latvias long-serving foreign minister who is a staunch Ukraine-backer said on Thursday, May 11, 2023, he would be running as a candidate in the Baltic countrys presidential election later this month. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File) (Vadim Ghirda, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HELSINKI – Latvia’s long-serving and popular foreign minister, who is a staunch Ukraine-backer, said Thursday that he would be running as a candidate in the Baltic country’s presidential election later this month.

The surprise announcement from Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s top diplomat since 2011, came a day after President Egils Levits said he wouldn’t seek reelection for another four-year term in the mostly ceremonial post.

“My professional experience, competence and education make it possible to strengthen ... the office of the president and to unite Latvian society for a common goal: for Latvia to be a safe, internationally respected and sustainable country,” Rinkevics said in a statement.

The 100-seat Saeima, Latvia’s Parliament, will elect a new head of state in a vote on May 31 from an array of candidates proposed by parties.

Rinkevics’ New Unity party said Thursday it unanimously supported the candidacy of the 49-year-old civil servant who has served - among other posts - as as high-ranking defense ministry official and worked as a journalist with Latvian Radio in the 1990s.

The party, led by Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, said in a statement that a “firm stance on strengthening external and internal security, trans-Atlantic ties, Western democracy and the Latvian language” were decisive issues that led to the decision to support Rinkevics in the presidential race.

In addition, New Unity said that his “helping Ukraine and uniting the international community against Russian aggression in Ukraine” was a strong merit for Rinkevics in the Baltic country of 1.9 million that is Russia’s neighbor and has a sizable ethnic-Russian minority.

It was considered all but certain that Levits, Latvia’s president since 2019, would seek reelection. But he announced late Wednesday that he was disappointed that parties in Karins’ coalition government haven’t been able to agree on a joint candidate, and said he wouldn't run in such a situation.

Latvia’s presidency is largely a ceremonial post and the head of state acts mainly as an opinion leader and uniting figure in the country where almost a third of residents speak Russian. The head of state represents Latvia abroad, acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces and can veto laws, among other things.