Latvia narrowly averts crisis

  • 2006-04-12
  • By Tim Ochser
RIGA - Latvia's government seemed to avert an embarrassing collapse just half a year before scheduled elections after Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis refused to cave in to an ultimatum from New Era and banish Latvia's First Party from the coalition. New Era, a leading coalition partner and Latvia's most popular party according to polls, responded by pulling its ministers from the Cabinet, leaving Kalvitis with a minority government of the People's Party, the Greens and Farmers Union and Latvia's First.

Although Latvia survived the same three-party formation in 2004 (after the New Era-led government collapsed), this time around the political ramifications of a minority government seemed more dire given the proximity of parliamentary elections, a high-profile NATO summit this fall and next year's budget.
However, For Fatherland and Freedom, an opposition party that has assumed "a working relationship" with the government, agreed to back a minority government in return for favorable treatment of its legislative projects, such as a law on naturalization.
The Saeima (Latvia's parliament) approved seven new cabinet ministers on April 8, just one day after the six New Era ministers resigned. The 100-strong Parliament moved swiftly to avert a major political crisis, passing a vote of confidence in the new ministers with 46 votes in favor, 34 votes against and 10 abstentions.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis told reporters that he was pleased the crisis had been quickly resolved. He said the new ministers were "professionals and well-known to the public," and that he appreciated their willingness to leave their current jobs on such short notice.
The reshuffle means that the senior coalition partner People's Party has gained two more ministers. Kalvitis' advisor Aigars Stokenbergs took over as economy minister, while the portfolio of the defense minister was handed to Atis Slakteris, who held the office under a previous government. Baiba Rivza of the Greens and Farmers' Union was confirmed as the education and science minister, while Latvia's First Party has three new ministers. Lawyer Guntars Grinvalds was appointed as the justice minister, Krisjanis Peters became the transport minister and former culture minister Karina Petersone took over as the minister for integration. Non-partisan Ina Gudele was appointed as the minister for e-government.

Kalvitis, who had called on New Era to refrain from the language of ultimatums and work together at least until the election in October, expressed certainty that a "harmonious minority government willing to work" would prove more capable than the majority government, which, over the last three months, has done nothing but squabble.
For Fatherland and Freedom faction leader Maris Grinblats said that the party's lawmakers were ready to work with Kalvitis if the latter would support the faction's proposals 's e.g., a citizenship bill, repatriation bill and amendments on individual income tax and property tax.

"The government has so far rejected all opposition proposals without even evaluating them," Grinblats told the Baltic News Service. If the government promises to be constructive and support For Fatherland's proposals, the faction will be able to support the government's bills as well, he added.
During the hastily convened parliamentary session, independent MP Janis Jurkans made an emotional speech calling for both right-wing and left-wing MPs to vote for the government headed by Kalvitis because there was no other alternative.
"Do you still believe that it is possible to have a government without Kalvitis? There is no such possibility," Jurkans said.
He called on For Fatherland and Freedom and New Era to vote in favor of Kalvitis' proposed government. Jurkans urged New Era "not to become lemmings" and jump off the political cliff.
"You made a brilliant move. You demonstrated your attitude to the government but today you have to demonstrate your attitude to the state," he said