RIGA - One of the founders of the religion-oriented Latvia's First Party, Eriks Jekabsons, quit the party Nov. 17, saying he wanted to leave before being thrown out.
Tension within the party began to build after Jekabsons told the daily Diena that Latvia's First had become a party of one person - Transport Minister Ainars Slesers. Soon afterwards, the party itself planned to hold a meeting to discuss Jekabsons' future, a move that prompted the founder to leave before a decision was taken.
The former Interior Minister said he was angered with party members who were "discussing my expulsion with the press behind my back."
Jekabsons, a former priest, founded the party together with Slesers, who reportedly convinced Jekabsons to leave the United States and help serve the Latvian government.
The exodus dents the party's reputation as the "priests' party," a moniker that some members have been happy to employ.
Jekabsons' departure from the party completes his rapid descent from interior minister, a post he left over a month ago, to unaligned deputy. The chain of events was set off after President Vaira Vike-Freiberga strongly criticized the sluggish pace of meeting security requirements necessary for the Schengen accords, a regime that would lift borders between member states.
Also, Jekabsons tete-a-tetes with Russian exile Boris Berezovsky perplexed many government officials, including the president. The erstwhile oligarch is wanted for arrest for embezzlement in Russia, though he has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom.
After the National Security Council decided to blacklist Berezovksy, Jekabsons abruptly resigned from his post. He initially claimed his decision was motivated by a lack of funds in the 2006 budget for the Interior Ministry, though he was quoted as saying that the security council gave into pressure from Kremlin.
Edgars Vaikulis, a spokesman for Latvia's First Party, commented Jekabsons' departure by saying, "It can be described only as a misunderstanding, but it is an irreversible misunderstanding."
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has made disparaging comments about the former Latvia's First member and the company he keeps. Jekabsons' mandate was renewed for Parliament, and he will continue to serve as an independent member of Parliament.