People's Party throws weight around

  • 2004-07-01
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The ruling coalition came under new strain this week, only this time from within, as the People's Party, the coalition's dominant force, publicly stated that it wanted more weight in the Cabinet. Specifically, the party said it would like to control either the Transport or Interior ministries.

"If this government wants to survive for long, then the People's Party must be dominant," said People's Party faction head Aigars Kalvitis on June 29.
Cognizant of the levity of the situation, Prime Minister Indulis Emsis said later that day that he could agree to the demand.
"Actually this is no problem," the Baltic News Service reported him as saying. "We just have to discuss this in the coalition, but have not done so yet."
It was unclear when The Baltic Times went to press whether the Cabinet would weather this internal storm. Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers, a member of Latvia's First Party who is also serving as transport minister, saw no reason for giving up his job.
The dilemma came just 10 days after the minority coalition survived a no-confidence vote put forward by right-wing opponents New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom. The move only garnered 31 votes.
The two parties have repeatedly tried to paint the Cabinet with a "pro-Moscow" brush, and the stunning success of For Fatherland and Freedom in the recent European Parliament election would suggest that the electorate is unhappy with the direction of government policy.
To maintain the heat, the People's Party was subsequently invited to join New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom in an attempt to marshal right-wing forces and topple the unpopular Cabinet, whose three parties mustered only 12 percent of the vote in the recent European Parliament election.
The People's Party, however, has responded to these pleas with a combination of criticism of New Era, which ruled the previous government, and counteroffers that New Era join the existing coalition.
Currently the minority coalition controls 47 votes and owes its continued survival to the help of the left-of-center National Harmony Party, a faction that justifies continually propping up the government on the grounds of influencing the approaching education reform scheduled for Sept.1.
The National Harmony Party, which failed to win a seat in the recent Europarliament election, competes with the more radical For Human Rights in a United Latvia for a largely Russophone electorate.
But the precarious position of the coalition, together with the palm branches tossed at the People's Party, has given the latter increased leverage in the Cabinet.
And the People's Party wants to use it.
"This has descended to a child's sandbox level, fighting over who has the biggest shovel," political analyst Karlis Streips said. "It is in New Era's self-interest to paint this government as a tool of Moscow, which is of course ridiculous."
Many commentators said they were not expecting the People's Party to leave the coalition before the coming local elections, although their hand may be forced should the National Harmony Party exert force on the eve of education reform implementation.
New Era hopes that by continuing to link this government with the left-wing popular support, the People's Party's will erode among the Latvian electorate. The sharper the fall in popularity, the quicker the People's Party will jump the coalition ship and join New Era.
Continuing to call for votes of no-confidence, even when New Era knows the vote is likely to fail, shows the electorate that they are being active in opposition, political scientist Daunis Auers said.
The votes also plainly show that the National Harmony Party continues to support the governing coalition - a combination that will be very difficult to hold together in the future.