RIGA - In an increasingly bizarre and embarrassing political drama, Aleksandrs Kirsteins, the outspoken nationalist member of Parliament, has survived a bid to oust him from the post of foreign affairs committee chairman, despite the MP's falling-out with his own party members.
Thirty-five parliamentarians voted to remove Kirsteins from his position in a closed ballot June 2, while 26 MPs voted against the measure and 22 abstained.
The People's Party, which two weeks ago decided to expel Kirsteins for anti-Semitic statements, had reportedly asked for him to be removed from the chairman's position, but introduced the motion only at the end of the committee's meeting. The matter was then taken to the floor of Parliament, where the People's Party asked that Kirsteins be removed completely from the foreign affairs committee, which, according to coalition members, was not what they had been told originally.
As a result, the vote took place amid confusion, to Kirsteins' benefit. The Greens and Farmers' Union, one of four ruling parties, said it would vote against Kirsteins' removal or abstain. Chairman Augusts Brigmanis was quoted as saying, "We cannot remove an independent lawmaker from the committee."
The nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party, formally in opposition but cooperative with the ruling coalition, also said its members would support Kirsteins.
Other coalition parties were ambiguous over whether to help the People's Party remove Kirsteins from the committee. New Era faction head Karlis Sadurskis said it was up to party members how to vote. Since all MPs must be members of at least two committees, Kirsteins would likely have to find another committee to move to.
The People's Party, having expressed discontent with coalition partners over their failure to remove Kirsteins, are now formulating other strategies - perhaps replacing him with fellow party member Vaira Paegle.
The failed ouster follows weeks of acrimony both within the People's Party and among Latvia's Jews and minorities, who have been constant targets of Kirsteins' nationalist 's and many say anti-Semitic 's remarks.
Foreign embassies have had a contentious relationship with Kirsteins, and several made their displeasure known immediately after he survived the vote.
"The embassy is disappointed by this latest development. As long as Mr. Aleksandrs Kirsteins heads the foreign affairs committee, the Embassy of the State of Israel will find it hard to work with," the Israeli Embassy said in a press release.
Since being expelled from the People's Party, Kirsteins' relationship with his former party members has already turned vitriolic. He has pointed fingers at former Prime Minister Andris Skele, saying the latter still controlled the People's Party (a claim Skele denies), and at Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks. Pabriks, according to Kirsteins, is taking orders from Russian Ambassador Viktor Kalyuzhny.
Janis Lagzdins, the People's Party faction head, called the accusations "lies" and said that Kirsteins' behavior was "typical of MPs who get expelled from their party."
Kirsteins has long been a source of controversy and embarrassment for his remarks about Jews and minorities, but it was his recent comments about Latvia's Jewish community 's he stated that Jews shouldn't act like they did in 1940 when they welcomed the state's enemies and that they should purge their ranks of former KGB agents 's that finally forced his party colleagues to take action.