Angry New Era gives ultimatum, Kalvitis scolds party's 'hotheads'

  • 2006-04-05
  • Staff and wire reports

BACK ME UP GUYS: After the Interior Ministry launched a criminal investigation against Karins, his fellow New Era members jumped to his defense, creating a political tug-of-war for Prime Minister Kalvitis.

RIGA - Latvia's government faced its most serious crisis to date when the majority partner, New Era, gave the prime minister an ultimatum on April 3 by demanding that he decide where his allegiances lie. New Era, incensed that an economic-crimes investigation was opened against one of its leaders, Economy Minister Krisjanis Karins, told Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis that he either boot Latvia's First Party out of the coalition or New Era would pull out unilaterally.

The case, which will probe alleged violations involving EU funds, was opened by the economic crimes unit of the Interior Ministry, which is now under the control of Latvia's First Party.
New Era leader Einars Repse called the move a "total prostitution of the law enforcement system, for which LPP should bear the responsibility." He said Latvia's First was destabilizing the situation in the country and abusing the power it had at the Interior Ministry.

"It is a threat to democracy, it must not happen. We have reason to worry about more serious values," he told the Baltic News Service.
Kalvitis, a member of the People's Party, was taken aback by the drastic stance of New Era and called on the party's leaders to calm down and change their tone of dialogue. "It is difficult to work out pragmatic positions with hot heads," he said on April 3.
The prime minister, who met with New Era the same day, gave the party three days to "think over" its position before meeting again on April 6.
Repse did not participate in the April 3 talks with Kalvitis.

Justice Minister Solvita Aboltina, a member of New Era, told journalists that party officials urged Kalvitis to take into account the ethical nuances and possible impact of the vote-buying scandal in Jurmala, the seaside resort town, and other recent developments on democratic processes in Latvia.
Last month Ainars Slesers, founder of Latvia's First, was sacked after becoming enmeshed in an apparent vote-buying scandal in the seaside resort of Jurmala. Slesers, whose phone was bugged, blames New Era for the leakage of information from law enforcement agencies that led to the publication of transcripts of the conversations.
People's Party founder and former Prime Minister Andris Skele was also implicated in the scandal as his voice was also on the transcripts.

Aboltina emphasized the seriousness of Kalvitis' current dilemma 's choosing which party to keep in his coalition.
Meanwhile, Repse said New Era was unlikely to back down.
"We will wait until the [April 6 meeting], but the People's Party should not entertain illusions that we are going to change our stance," he stated.
One day before the meeting Repse added: "The prime minister must decide the path he will take - corruption, or honest, European-style Western politics."
He emphasized that New Era would not work in the coalition with Latvia's First. "The question is whether we allow honest or dishonest forces to rule Latvia," Repse said.

The coalition government consists of four parties, which together have 69 votes in the 100-strong Parliament. New Era has 24 votes, the People's Party 20, Latvia's First Party 13 and the Greens and Farmers' Union 12.
Latvia's First Party has been striking back at New Era. Faction leader Janis Smits said that New Era's statement amounted to "blackmail that is not becoming of a party that took an oath in church," a reference to New Era's public gesture before its debut in Parliament in 2002.
"New Era should expel Karins to purge itself from the shame that they had brought onto the entire public and their voters," Smits said, adding that New Era had lost the people's trust through Karins' actions.
Smits said that, so far, only Repse had been involved in a corruption scandal, but now Karins had also gotten involved. It is like "cancer metastasis spreading through the whole body," said the LPP member. "Apparently it has become an accepted practice in that party," said Smits.

Meanwhile, Kalvitis has remained tight-mouthed about criminal proceedings into the Economy Ministry. By the time The Baltic Times went to press, the most he had said was that if allegations against Karins proved to be true, the New Era founder would have to assume full responsibility and resign. Otherwise, the ministry would discredit Latvia's process of distributing EU structural funds.
On April 3, Karins told journalists that the board of New Era would decide on further steps. The minister has continued to defend himself, saying he was not in violation of any laws. "I acted in accordance with the law and the approved procedure," Karins reiterated, adding that he had already spoken to Kalvitis about this.
To prove his point, Karins invited anyone to look over the resolutions he had signed for discrepancies.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga emphasized the government's need, now more than ever, for stability.
"There is not much time left for this parliament and this government. What do they want? To take a leave now and engage in a political campaign? I don't know. I'm abroad now. I [will come back and] then I will see what is happening," she told the press in Moldova