RIGA - Adding to the already crowded field of political parties, Maris Gulbis, erstwhile interior minister, inaugurated the New Democrats on June 11 in the seaside city of Jurmala.
Joining Gulbis was Inara Ostrovska, both of whom walked away from center-right party New Era over differences with party leadership. As is traditional in Latvian politics, the party was stacked with somewhat well-known personalities such as former prosecutor Guntis Akmenkalns, judge Juris Eglitis, Andris Pudans, the spokesman for the transportation department at the Riga City Council, and former head of traffic police Visvaldis Pukitis.
To no one's surprise, Gulbis was named head of the party by a vote of 117 out of 195. The new party leadership was critical of the current political coalition.
The New Democrats will be remarkably similar to the party Gulbis left behind, New Era, where he often clashed with head Einars Repse. Gulbis is joined by fellow New Era renegades Ostrovska and Ints Birzkops.
The New Democrats said they would also focus on creating links with regional parties. When asked by Diena whether the plans included the party For Latvia and Ventspils, controlled by Mayor Aivars Lembergs, Gulbis replied that the invitation has already been sent, but an answer had not yet been received.
The difference lies in how much political change this new democratic force would bring, compared with previous parties that, according the Pudans, were guilty of sending American President George W. Bush to the country's Freedom Monument to greet "100 actors who had to portray the nation" during his visit May 6-7.
The present ruling powers have been ignoring the public, Gulbis said, making it necessary to form a new political alternative.
"As we do not feel represented and we know that there are many more people who do not feel represented," he said at the conference.
The MP had strong words for all four coalition parties and the current government, calling it the "weakest in recent years." Commenting on New Era Leader Einars Repse, who he often quarreled with, Gulbis said he had the personality of a "savior," while calling Latvia's First Party a "private business project."
Gulbis turned to a page from his past, when he called for the creation of a shadow cabinet, saying that the New Democrats must meticulously follow what the current coalition is doing. "For now, we must be a shadow - we must be Kalvitis' shadow, [Interior Minister Eriks] Jekabsons' shadow and [Foreign Minister Artis] Pabriks' shadow."
The party congress also saw several politicians from the ruling coalition make an appearance, including Augusts Brigmanis of the Greens and Farmers' Union. Brigmanis reportedly promised to defend Gulbis and Ostrovska in Parliament. Gulbis later said that Brigmanis' party no longer represents people living in the countryside.
Former Health Minister Rinalds Mucins of the Greens and Farmers' Union also spoke at the inauguration, saying "be a little realistic, and be prepared for real work." Later Mucins told journalists he didn't rule out joining the political party himself, and was keeping his options open.