RIGA - Latvia's First Party has decided to stay in the ruling coalition even after Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis sacked party leader Ainars Slesers for becoming enmeshed in an apparent vote-buying incident in Jurmala. Together with its partner Latvia's Way, Latvia's First Party decided that it would be "logical" to remain in the ruling coalition.
"LPP remains in the government headed by Kalvitis and will continue to run the Ministry of Children's and Family Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the Transport Ministry," said party chairman Juris Lujans.
He said that the party takes pride "in their deeds, not their words," and moving into the opposition would prevent the party from carrying out its plans.
This was the third major ministerial resignation/sacking since the current coalition 's comprised of the People's Party, New Era, the Greens and Farmers Union, and Latvia's First Party 's took over at the end of 2004. The first resignation was by another Latvia's First Party member, former Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons.
Kalvitis urged Latvia's First Party to stay in the coalition, and President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said that government stability should be of paramount concern.
Still, even if Latvia's First had decided to exit the coalition, the resulting three-party government still would have had 56 seats in Parliament, which is still a majority. Latvia's First has 13 seats in the legislature.
Kalvitis had little room to maneuver in the latest scandal since the cell phone transcripts, whose origin is still unknown, indicate that Slesers was aware of an attempt to buy the loyalty of a Jurmala City Council member last year.
After the municipal elections in March 2005, the council in the resort town was divided, and Latvia's First Party was keen to see that its candidate for the mayor's position, Juris Hlevickis, got the job.
As late as March 15, Slesers said he had nothing to do with the alleged bribery and that his conscience was clean. He added that he knew nothing about a payoff offered to ensure that Hlevickis remained mayor.
Former prime minister and People's Party leader Andris Skele is also implicated in the scandal since his voice was also recorded.
Another ruling coalition partner, New Era, expects LPP to denounce political corruption in the Jurmala elections and look into the involvement of LPP members in the bribery case. As a result, they hope to remove cooperation obstacles with LPP within the coalition government.
The party nominated Krisjanis Peters, formerly state secretary of the Transport Ministry, to replace Slesers.
Slesers said there was little time left until the parliamentary elections, and all efforts should be made to continue ongoing initiatives by the Transport Ministry. "I hope [Peters] will do just as well as I did," Slesers quipped.
Krisjanis Peters, 31, is the son of Latvia's former ambassador to Russia, poet Janis Peteris. He studied political science and international relations at the Moscow State Institute of International relations. He was an MP during the previous government and was also elected to the current parliament, where he sits on the committee for supervising prevention and combating corruption, contraband and organized crime. He has also been the Economy Ministry's parliamentary secretary twice, and was appointed as the state secretary of the Transport Ministry in December 2004.