Emsis' government under attack from right and left

  • 2004-05-20
  • Staff and wire reports
RIGA - The minority coalition of Indulis Emsis underwent its first true test of durability this week as both right-wing and left-wing parties blasted the government for failing to cope with minority-related problems.

Few, however, were expecting the two diametrically opposite sides to unite their efforts and oust the two-month old coalition.
On May 18 the coordination council of the left-wing For Human Rights in a United Latvia decided that its parliamentary faction should press for Emsis' resignation. Faction head Jakovs Pliners told the Baltic News Service that the party was dissatisfied with government policy, particularly in relation to the education system reform, which is set to take place on Sept. 1.
The party distributed a statement citing "the unwillingness and inability of the government to find an actual solution to the education reform issue, hindering the work of the Corruption Prevention and Control Bureau, refusal to freeze rising apartment rents, inactivity in providing funds for cofinancing European Union projects, and the inability to appoint a transport minister in three months" as reasons for demanding the resignation.
Party Co-Chairwoman Tatyana Zhdanoka also took a stab at the government for cooperating with the National Harmony Party, another left party, in dealing with the country's most pressing social issues.
Meanwhile, on the right, the New Era party called on May 17 for the Emsis Cabinet to step down for cohorting with leftist forces and failing to find a solution to societal issues.
"The present Cabinet fully depends on the leftist forces, and therefore New Era recommends removing this government and subsequently forming a right-wing government," said Krisjanis Karins, faction leader of New Era in Parliament.
"Emsis, who is clinging to power at this point, is doing it at a very high price -- playing with the left-wing forces," said Karins.
He stressed that New Era, which as the most popular party has 26 seats in Parliament, was ready to support a government resignation petition filed by any party, irrespective of argumentation under the resignation request. This signals a possible alliance with the left.
Cabinet officials, however, were quick to dispel the likelihood of such an alliance.
Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers, a member of Latvia's First Party, said that the right-wing opposition parties New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom were unlikely to back leftists in a no-confidence vote.
Justice Minister Vineta Muizniece, who hails from the People's Party, also expressed her doubts about a right-left axis, however dissatisfied they were with the government.
"I would be very much surprised if right-wing parties backed suspension of the education reform. I think it is impossible," she said.
Oskars Kastens, head of Latvia's First parliamentary faction, did not rule out an alliance between New Era and For Human Rights in a United Latvia.
Slesers stressed that the minority government must be "open to dialogue" with the opposition to maintain its stability, but "we will not back off in the given matter [of the school reform]," he said.
Rather than go after the entire government, however, New Era said it would focus on having Nils Muiznieks, integration minister, sacked.
"The mess that has developed around the education reform is only worsening the integration," said Karins. "Muiznieks is inactive in his office."
Muiznieks was unequivocal in his assessment of calls for his removal.
"They are now trying to push on my shoulders all those problems which [former Education Minister Karlis] Sadurskis and [former Premier Einars] Repse boiled up by pushing in the same bag all the education reform opponents and describing them as the fifth column," he was quoted as saying.
Sadurskis and Repse are both members of New Era.
Repse, for his part, echoed Karins' criticism. "During my time in office as well, Muiznieks very groundlessly pushed all the efforts of explaining education reform off his shoulders. We did not see any activity here - everything was pushed onto the shoulders of the education minister," said Repse.
The former prime minister nonetheless noted that the party was not demanding Muiznieks' resignation for any one-policy decision; rather, the move was New Era's way of demonstrating its poor assessment of the current government.
"All of this Cabinet should be aware that it should step down and it won't take long before we propose that," said Repse.
Parliament will most likely consider the petition for Muiznieks' removal next week.
Karins called on all right-wing parties to begin talks on forming a new government.
"We should sit down at one table and discuss what kind of a government would be best and most stable," he said. "New Era does not set out any ultimatums about the government forming talks. New Era does not demand itself either the premier's post or a specific number of portfolios."
Repse denied that Latvia's First Party would be included among the right-wing parties in forming a new government.
"The truth is that New Era has 26 votes, FF/LNNK has seven, and I don't see any sleeping beauties among the others," said Repse.
Parliament approved the Emsis-led coalition - comprising the Greens/Farmers Union, Latvia's First Party and the People's Party - on March 9, with the help of the National Harmony Party, five of whose members defected to Latvia's First.
Slesers called comments by National Harmony Party leader Jurkans on ways to solve education problems without amending the education law "a turning point where left-wing opposition started becoming constructive."
Aigars Kalvitis, head of the People's Party parliamentary faction, said the party "couldn't agree to cooperation with the leftists but would consider their proposals." "Any help would be useful to clean up the mess left by the previous government," he added.