“The fight is already on” for the local government elections in Riga, Janis Urbanovics, head of the social democratic party Harmony (part of Harmony Center), said at the party’s congress on Saturday, adding that his party would address all people in Riga and make sure that they are spared “pressure from the media,” reports LETA.
Urbanovics also said there were regions where Harmony Center got more votes in the parliamentary elections than in local government elections, and “it is absolutely unacceptable that Harmony Center cannot offer voters candidates they would want to vote for.” Harmony Center has supporters everywhere; however, there are regions where the party will not run for local government, he said.
Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs (Harmony Center) believes that the main task at the upcoming municipal elections will be to “save left-wing policies from right-wing encroachment” and to increase Harmony Center’s representation in local governments, as well as to come to power in more local governments.
Unity said it intended to begin drawing up its candidate list for next year’s Riga City Council elections on Dec. 15, said the head of the party’s group at the Riga City Council Olafs Pulks. Members of the party’s Riga branch will have until Jan. 15 to submit their proposals on candidates.
He also added that Unity will launch a Web site in the near future, where city residents will be able to express their views on problems they have identified in the city. “We will have an active and open discussion with city residents so that we can create the best program possible,” Pulks said.
Enough of corruption in Riga
In order for Riga to fulfill its economic potential, it is necessary to deal with several “black holes” under the city’s management: for example, at the Freeport of Riga and the municipal public transportation company Rigas Satiksme, said Sarmite Elerte, Unity’s Riga mayor candidate, at a forum on Dec. 12.
The Freeport of Riga is among such “black holes” as serious investors are put off by the port’s opaque decision-making, the offshore holdings mess and conflicts of interest, she said. “Under the guidance of Riga Vice Mayor Andris Ameriks or ‘‘Mr.20 percent’ (referring to one of Ameriks’ public nicknames due to accusations that he skims off 20 percent of all activity at the port), the port has increased turnover, but it has also lost its reputation. This affects Latvia’s competitiveness. The Freeport of Riga has fallen from 37th to 76th spot in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index,” pointed out Elerte as she emphasized that the separation of legislative and executive powers is a precondition for good governance.
Rigas Satiksme, according to Elerte, is the second “black hole.” The Riga City Council dropped 60 million lats (85.7 million euros) of the city’s revenue on the company this year. Harmony Center’s deputies on the company’s board have no clue about their actions and prevent other Riga City Council deputies from controlling the distribution of these funds, added Elerte.
Elerte also criticized the municipal heating supply company Rigas Siltums, supervised by Ameriks’ party colleague Vjaceslavs Stepanenko, over refusing to switch on central heating due to debts.
A substantial majority of economically-active residents in Riga believe that current Mayor Usakovs is the most suitable candidate for mayor, while the popularity of other candidates substantially lags behind, according to a survey carried out by the market, social and media research company TNS Latvia and the LNT television channel.
Sixty-six percent of economically active residents of Riga between the ages of 18 to 55 pointed out that they believe Usakovs is the most suitable Riga mayor candidate. Seven percent point out that Saeima Member Aleksejs Loskutovs (Unity) would be the most suitable mayoral candidate, even though he is not running for mayor.
Six percent of those surveyed stated that Elerte is the most suitable candidate, while only four percent said that All for Latvia!-For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK’s (VL-TB/LNNK) candidate Baiba Broka is.
Lack of a plan
Broka’s criticism is that, as the capital of Latvia, Riga lacks a long-term development plan. As a result, Riga is unable to provide stability to those investors who want to plan their business activities in the city, explained the politician in an interview on Latvian Radio in early November.
“It is unacceptable that, instead of behaving as the capital of Latvia, Riga is currently trying to split off from the rest of the country and stand on its own,” emphasized Broka. She said that Riga does not communicate or cooperate with the national government, which is detrimental to various projects.
Commenting on the performance of Usakovs, Broka added that several constructive and economically viable decisions have been made under his governance, including, for example, discounts for public transportation. However, these accomplishments cannot be considered as single-handedly achieved by Usakovs, since both coalition and opposition deputies supported them.
Broka proposes a different style of cooperation with ethnic groups. She believes that the current division: ‘Latvians vs. non-Latvians,’ is unacceptable, since there are also people of other nationalities - Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, and each of them should be offered something that meets their interests.
Broka believes that integration should be based on democratic principles, strictly observing the principle of a national state. She is convinced that other nationalities can be convinced to love Latvia.
Addressing a Dec. 1 Unity party congress, Elerte said that the campaign for Riga City Council elections will be hard, but winnable. “If we want to make Riga a city of opportunity, we must win next year’s city council elections,” Elerte said. At the same time, she said that cooperation before and after the elections must be discussed with VL-TB/LNNK and the Reform
Elerte said that Unity’s main challenge next year will be to convince people that it is possible for a better Riga. “Riga deserves better than being a gray business city that entertains post-Soviet oligarchs. Riga must become a star of the north,” the politician said. She said Riga will be Latvian, European and a multicultural city in one, but will not be a city divided by two ethnic groups. Elerte also emphasized that Riga and the state must be united. Government coalition parties Unity, VL-TB/LNNK and the Reform Party are intending to run separately in the Riga City Council elections.
The 2013 local government elections will take place on June 1 next year.