Latvia's election winners take breather

  • 2006-10-18
  • By Gary Peach

THE MAGIC NUMBER: Kalvitis (above left with coalition partners Lembergs and Brigmanis), who looks set to stay on as prime minister, said the coalition would take its time to invite a fourth party.

RIGA - Latvia's ruling government backed off from announcing a new coalition agreement on Oct. 16, preferring to sit a while longer in the driver's seat and hear the president and possible political partners' opinion on the country's future government. The announcement by the three ruling party leaders - Aigars Kalvitis of the People's Party, Indulis Emsis of the Greens and Farmers Union and Ainars Slesers of Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way - came as a surprise.

Last weekend, the same individuals stated they would announce the formation of a new ruling coalition that could begin work as soon as the new parliament meets in November.
But once Monday came, their tactics changed.

"We can work together with 51 votes in the Saeima (Latvia's parliament), so there is no need for hurrying to attract another partner," Slesers told reporters on Oct. 16. "Fifty-one is a majority."
Slesers and Emsis stressed that if the three parties could currently run the government with a slight minority, then there would be no problem doing the same but with a majority.

Together, the three parties won a slim majority in the nation's 100-seat legislature in the Oct. 7 elections. Last week, party leaders decided they would need to strengthen this number by bringing along one, if not two, parties. The choice boiled down to the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom and the center-right New Era. After meeting with the latter two parties last week, the coalition partners expressed a slight preference for For Fatherland and Freedom, which will have eight seats in the 9th Saeima.
Analysts and pundits have suggested that Slesers and Aivars Lembergs, who leads the Greens and Farmers Union, are reluctant to divide ministerial portfolios with another party and want time to convince Kalvitis that the current government can continue to rule with the slimmest of majorities in Parliament.

Whether it can for a full four-year term is another question. Given that Latvia has seen 12 governments in 15 years, few think it possible. But the prime minister, who was apparently advised by People's Party founder Andris Skele not to rush into a new coalition deal, is keeping his cards close to his chest.
"We are trying to find the optimal solution," Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said.
Besides, he added, the constitution states that a government should be formed by a prime minister appointed by the president, and as of now President Vaira Vike-Freiberga had yet to make her nomination.

The head of state met with the People's Party on Oct. 17 and was scheduled to continue talks with each political party that gained seats in the new Parliament - there are seven - after Queen Elizabeth II's visit.
Still, most politicians and analysts agreed that there was no suspense in who the president would nominate as prime minister. Since a majority of voters cast their ballots for the ruling coalition - and thus chose stability - the president was likely to nominate Kalvitis.

After meeting with Vike-Freiberga, People's Party leaders did not rule out forming a broader coalition, though chairman Atis Slakteris seemed to suggest that the more partners there are in a coalition the more difficult work becomes.
Indeed, the current minority coalition is the result of a previous four-party government formed with New Era at the end of 2004. New Era, despite a plea from PM Kalvitis, dropped out of the agreement in April this year after much acrimony involving Latvia's First Party. For Fatherland and Freedom, by contrast, has positioned itself as a "cooperative opposition" in Parliament, and it often backs the government's policies.

While the president meets with political leaders, government leaders said they would focus on drafting a new coalition agreement that will facilitate cooperation over the next four years.
According to reports, talks on the agreement have hit snags on issues of labor migration, taxes and the border treaty with Russia.

According to unofficial election results, the People's Party won 23 seats in Parliament, the Greens and Farmers Union 18, New Era 18, the center-left Harmony Center 17, Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way 10, For Fatherland and Freedom 8 and the left-wing For Human Rights in a United Latvia.