Specter hangs over Latvian government

  • 2004-06-17
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Latvia's fragile ruling coalition was dealt a staggering blow in the June 12 Europarliament elections, with its three constituent parties mustering only 14 percent of the vote, or one seat out of the country's nine in the European legislature.

The coalition's opponents, who hope to exploit the opportunity and overturn the minority government, immediately seized the plummet in the people's trust.
Opposition parties New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom, whose strong showing of nearly half the vote gave them the lion's share of the country's six seats in the EP elections, have asked the People's Party to leave the coalition and join them in forming a new government.
Together the three right-wing parties hold 54 seats in Parliament.
The other two coalition members, Latvia's First Party and Greens and Farmers Union, were dismissed as possible partners by former Prime Minister and New Era party leader Einars Repse, who called them "traitors."
"I don't think we can talk about a new coalition right now," Artis Pabriks of the People's Party told The Baltic Times. "We will talk with other parties, and we will continue to talk with New Era."
In the press, Defense Minister Atis Slakteris, a member of People's Party, said the party had already invited New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom to join the current coalition. However, he denied that the election results had anything to do with domestic sentiment about his government.
Still, the election could well be a sign that part of the electorate was switching party allegiance.
"The European Parliament elections show that the voters are not pleased with the current government," New Era faction head Krisjanis Karins said.
The prime minister, however, did not see it that way.
"I am completely calm. The situation has actually become more stable after this vote," Indulis Emsis was quoted as saying.
Whether Emsis is playing the fiddle while Rome burns, or whether the election can be explained simply by a confluence of forces, was a matter of debate when The Baltic Times went to press.
Regardless of interpretation leaders of the People's Party, which gained 16.6 percent of the vote in October 2002, are certain to engage in no small amount of soul-searching in the coming days and weeks.
Primarily, they will have to counteract claims of being in bed with the left-wing, something that could spell political death among Latvia's nationalist-minded voters.
"This coalition depends on the pro-Moscow left, and we need to form a new coalition," Karins insisted, explaining that the no confidence vote his party called for on June 17 was the result of domestic polices taken by the coalition.
"The offer [to form a new coalition] is outstanding," Karins reiterated, adding that New Era wouldn't rule out a coalition with the Greens and Farmers, although one with Latvia's First Party could prove problematic.
Sources say that the People's Party and New Era have been meeting for some time to discuss the possibilities. There are, however, gaps to bridge between the two forces. New Era, the country's largest party, came to power on an anticorruption platform and publicly accused the People's Party of graft.
Later New Era and Latvia's First Party formed a bloc and pushed the People's Party into the opposition.
Another gap to bridge would be deciding who would be the next prime minister. Repse would undoubtedly like to have the job himself, but many in the People's Party may be loathing to play second-string to a person who has been criticized for his high-handed leadership style.
The People's Party, which has traditionally relied upon a nationalist electorate, feels that it can only suffer in the long-term by staying in the current coalition. In fact, it might hedge its losses and cuddle up with New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom.
Meanwhile, the left of center National Harmony Party, which has given its tepid support to the minority coalition in exchange for a seat in government, has already threatened to withdraw its support, particularly in light of the coalition's failure to address the school reform issue.
National Harmony faction head Janis Urbanovics said his party would wait until after their congress on June 19 before making a decision concerning their support for the minority coalition.