Latvia elects former dissident with Jewish roots

The Latvian parliament on elected European Court of Justice judge and former dissident Egils Levits as the new president of the Baltic state.

Sixty-one of the 100 members of parliament voted for the German-educated candidate of the governing coalition parties.

“I will be president for the whole of Latvia — for those who live in the country and those who live abroad, for the poor and the better-off,” Levits, 63, said.

The Latvian president holds a largely ceremonial post but he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and appoints the prime minister and ambassadors. The head of state also has the right to propose and return legislation to parliament, as well as to dissolve parliament.

Levits and his parents, Latvians of Jewish origin, were expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 because the KGB viewed them as a threat to the Communist regime. His father, Jonas, was Jewish but his mother was not, he said in an interview last month for the Delfi news channel.

The family settled in Germany where Levits obtained law and political science degrees before returning to Latvia a decade later and entering politics.

Levits helped write the country’s 1990 declaration of independence following the end of the Soviet occupation.

He later served as a member of parliament, justice minister and ambassador to Switzerland, Hungary, Germany and Austria.

Latvia has been governed since January by a coalition of the center-right parties New Unity and National Alliance, the liberal Development/FOR!, the New Conservatives and some members of the populist KPV LV party.

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