Government falls over budget vote

  • 2004-11-01
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The minority government crumbled after seven months of power on Oct. 28 when coalition members of the People's Party voted against the 2005 budget, putting the vote at 53 against, 39 in favor, with five abstentions. According to Latvian law, a vote against the budget immediately counts as one of no confidence.

The law on the budget has never before been used to remove the government, making this the 11th time since 1993 that a new coalition has needed to be formed.

The vote on the first reading came as a surprise to many. While many predicted that the minority coalition would disintegrate even sooner than it did, its reliance on support from the left-wing to pass legislation ultimately proved to be its undoing during budget negotiations.

The Emsis-led minority coalition, which lasted seven months and 19 days, narrowly missed setting a record as the shortest running government by 10 days.

Latvia's First Party, the Greens and Farmers Union and the National Harmony Party, who all supported the budget, were even aided by the far left Socialist Party.

"We decided to take an emergency landing, rather than risk a possible crash in the near future," Foreign Minister and People's Party member Artis Pabriks told The Baltic Times.

That crash could come in the form of next year's municipal elections, set to take place in March. Yet some observers say the timing may have been a miscalculation.

¨They couldn't wait and decided the government had to fall. It seems they made the decision with little preparation, something that might come back to haunt them when the president chooses a prime minister,¨ Pauls Raudseps, the op-ed page editor of the Diena daily, told The Baltic Times.

The power struggle within the coalition came to a head once it was clear that Udre was not going to leave her position as Parliament Speaker following her rejection as European Commissioner.

Latvia´s First Party would only lose out with a change of the cabinet's position, making it unlikely that they would agree to a reduction of power.

Continued left-wing support was cited as one reason that the government would eventually fall, since the People's Party would lose support among its nationalist electorate. Indeed, the right-wing party's popularity ratings fell to 7.3 percent by last month, despite being the second largest faction in Parliament.

Negotiations began with great alacrity shortly after the government's collapse, showing that perhaps the right-wing Latvian parties can work together after all.

Old grievances were also forgotten. Even former antagonists New Era and Latvia´s First Party appeared to bury the hatchet, on the condition that the five renegades from the left-wing National Harmony Party won't receive any major positions in the new government.

Meanwhile, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is reportedly unhappy with the timing of the fall, as it coincided with the European Constitution signing in Rome. The fate of the next prime minister, who many observers have said could come from Latvia´s First Party, lies in her hands.

New Era has recently moved closer to Latvia's First Party, despite angry recriminations between the two parties that led to the downfall of the previous government earlier this year.

¨The president looked like a mother who was putting her kids in the corner for the fall of the government, saying boys, "lets be serious with our work in the government,¨ Aigars Freimanis, a sociologist from the polling agency Latvijas Fakti said.

The People´s Party has put forward three candidates for the position of prime minister in any new government, proposing Defense Minister Atis Slakteris, former Finance Minister Gundars Berzins, or head of the faction in parliament Aigars Kalvitis.

New Era, the largest party in Parliament, has said they would agree to whoever President Vaira Vike-Freiberga chooses. The president, however, has said she would not address the issue until after Independence Day on Nov. 18.