New Democrats flirt with Greens, Farmers

  • 2005-08-03
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - After an Aug. 2 meeting between the New Democrats and the Greens and Farmers Union, the two parties took another step to forming a common list for the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Leaders from the two parties met on Aug. 2 to discuss possible cooperation in next year's elections. Speaking afterwards to reporters, Augusts Brigmanis, head of the Greens and Farmers, said that both groups have a similar outlook on development and that other regional parties across the country may join the combined ticket.

New Democrats' founder Maris Gulbis said that with the addition of various regional parties and the Greens and Farmers, the combination would hope for at least 30 places in the 100-seat Parliament.

Intrigue surrounding the two parties' marriage has been intensified by the possible participation of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs in the 2006 elections. The press is rife with speculation that the mayor, who is rumored to control nearly everything that takes place in the port city, might leave his long-standing post and head to Riga for a seat in Parliament.

New Democrats was recently organized by Gulbis, former interior minister, after he left New Era, a right-wing party. It is comprised largely of relative unknowns in the political arena and would need to cooperate with more seasoned parties in order to reach the minimal vote barrier. What's more, with a host of new parties emerging in the run-up to the ballot, New Democrats risks getting lost in the crowd.

But most of the speculation has focused on Lembergs, who has supported, at least verbally, the Greens and Farmers Union. Some observers have suggested that the mayor's sudden ambitions in the capital, where he has officially not been involved in politics for the past 15 years, are a move of desperation.

"It may signal that things are going wrong for him personally, or in other areas. There is speculation that he may try to get into Parliament to seek immunity," political scientist Janis Ikstens said.

The state prosecutor has asked Swiss officials for aide in determining the true owners of Ventspils Nafta, which is reportedly domiciled offshore in a legion of shell companies and is believed to be controlled, in part, by Lembergs.

As mayor, Lembergs would not have immunity from prosecution, which he would have in Parliament.

Ikstens also said that a combined ticket of the two parties, one featuring Lembergs, in addition to strong financial backing and free advertising in print media controlled by Mediju Nams, a Ventspils Nafta-owned printing press, would have little trouble getting into Latvia's next Parliament.

Lembergs is, in fact, widely believed to be in control of the lucrative port, which handles crude, cotton, coal, fertilizer and other commodities from the former Soviet Union. But despite the secretiveness surrounding many Ventspils enterprises, many locals admire their mayor for the city's outstanding infrastructure and admirable 's if only by Baltic standards 's public works.

Lembergs' For Ventspils and Latvia party crushed the opposition in the local elections this March, taking 10 of 13 seats in the local assembly.