Latvia elects first openly gay president Edgars Rinkevics

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Edgars Rinkevics has served as foreign minister for more than a decade as a member of the economically liberal Unity Party and first came out in 2014 by announcing on Twitter he was “proud to be gay”.

Edgars Rinkevics in 2022 in his role as Latvia’s foreign minister. AP

Socially conservative views remain common in former Soviet countries, however Rinkevics was a narrow favourite with the public to take on the largely ceremonial role, with 22 per cent support compared with 21 per cent for his closest rival, entrepreneur and architect Uldis Pilens.

Latvia’s presidential succession had threatened political gridlock, with Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ ruling party coalition government unable to settle on a single candidate.

Rinkevics received 52 of a possible 87 votes in a runoff round of voting on Wednesday – one more than required to win the post, with Pilens gaining just 25 votes.

The populist For Stability party, which is associated with Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, voted against both finalists.

Rinkevics, 49, who formally takes up the role on July 8, said he would ensure that the country continued on its determinedly pro-western trajectory, describing support for Ukraine and NATO as the “cornerstones of our foreign policy”.

“I will do everything so that our state will thrive, our country is safe, and our society will be more united,” Rinkevics said after the vote. He encouraged Latvia’s youth to “be ready to break the glass ceiling” in pursuing their ambitions.

As foreign minister, he has enjoyed high popularity among Latvians because of his hard stance toward neighbouring , advocating Kyiv’s accession to both the European Union and NATO.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated Rinkevics, calling him “a true friend” of the war-torn nation.

Newly elected Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics. AP

Latvia, which borders Russia to the east and Belarus to the south-east, regained its independence in 1991 following nearly 50 years of Soviet rule. The new president will be the 11th head of state, counting from the country’s first independence declared in 1918.

At the time he publicly announced his sexuality, Rinkevics pledged to fight towards legalising same-sex marriage, which remains illegal in Latvia.

“I do not believe that something fundamental should change in people’s attitude toward me or other people,” he said in a radio interview at the time. “It is time for us to be more open and honest. Believe me, such decisions are not easy to make and can take a long time.”

The nation of about 1.9 million people ranks among the worst places in Europe to be an LGBTQ citizen in terms of legal rights, according to an index published by the rainbow advocacy group ILGA-Europe.

In 2019, an EU study found that 45 per cent of Latvians were uncomfortable with the idea of a gay, lesbian or bisexual person in high political office.

Several openly gay figures have risen to positions of power in their countries but as prime minister rather than president, including , Luxembourg’s , and Serbia’s.

San Marino, a microstate of 34,000 in central Italy, elected openly gay Paolo Rondelli to be one of its two heads of state, or captains regent, last year.

Unlike in the United States or France, the position of president is ceremonial in many countries. But Rinkevics, a former radio journalist with Latvia’s public broadcaster and a past defence ministry official, will have some executive powers and represents the country internationally.

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Publish date : 2023-06-03 07:00:00

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Author : love-europe

Publish date : 2024-06-03 20:15:10

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