RIGA - President Vaira Vike-Freiberga set history on Nov. 7, officially nominating outgoing Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis to return to the helm and lead the nation's government into a second term. A day later, Parliament backed her nomination with a vote of 58 to 41. In his address before the new government, Kalvitis noted that, for the first time in Latvia's post-Soviet history, Parliament has "not only maintained, but also increased its authority in the eyes of society."
The prime minister said he had high expectations for his new team who, he believes, can achieve the long-term goal of "welfare for the nation in a modern, competitive, Latvian and European state."
"If we have enough energy, we will work for four years. If there is not enough energy, we will have to look for new energy sources," Kalvitis said.
Just days earlier, Kalvitis had announced that the ruling coalition 's the conservative People's Party, Latvia's First Party and Latvia's Way and the Greens and Farmers Union 's had decided to invite the nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK as their fourth partner, filling the positions of economy and justice ministers.
The coalition parties will have a total of 59 votes out of Parliament's 100.
Many are optimistic that the new government could be Latvia's most stable parliament in history, especially taking into account the country's strong economic growth.
Yet Pauls Raudseps, a political commentator for the Latvian daily Diena, pointed out that Latvia's economic situation could serve as a double edged sword.
"It's not surprising that the electorate voted for the previous ruling coalition," he told The Baltic Times. "This is what tends to happen when a country is undergoing economic growth. But this also means that the current government's stability completely depends on how long the good times keep going."
In Raudseps' words, the current ruling coalition will most likely fall apart once the economy begins to falter, which, based on Latvia's soaring inflation and burgeoning real estate sector, is almost inevitable (see story Page 6).
"Even though the government has a fairly sturdy mandate, their declaration on plans for the future is very weak. If you look at their program, they don't have visions, they've only proposed projects, such as 'build a library or a new highway.' This is all fine as long as the money's flowing in, but once the real estate bubble starts to deflate, then they'll be faced with serious problems," he said.
Yet the Latvian president has soaring aspirations for the new government.
In her speech before Parliament at the 9th Saeima's (Latvia's parliament) plenary session, Vike-Freiberga encouraged members to improve Saeima's national prestige and become "the best government ever."
One of their most monumental tasks, she reminded, will be electing a new president for Latvia. In making this decision, MPs must think in the long-term, beyond party interests and the present political situation, the president added.
After announcing the new government on Nov. 3, Kalvitis said that, in choosing For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK as their fourth partner, coalition members took into account the party's ability to cooperate and contribute to the overall atmosphere. The PM added that the new government was open to proposals by Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK members, pointing out that the party had already supported his coalition on significant issues.
For Fatherland and Freedom representative Roberts Zile said he did not see "antagonistic contradictions for cooperation among parties." Rather, he added, the party could help the coalition tackle issues concerning individual income tax and property tax.
Fellow party member Augusts Brigmanis echoed this statement, along with Latvia's First Party leader Ainars Slesers.
Yet, the inclusion of the nationalists in the government aroused the indignation of Russia, whose ambassador to Latvia, Viktor Kalyuzhny, warned of a possible chill in relations between the two countries.
"Including radical nationalists in the government will be perceived negatively in Russia," Kalyuzhny told the Russian language newspaper Vesti Segodnya in an interview last week. "I'm afraid that, if they end up in the government, party members could freeze relations with Russia through their actions."
During its parliamentary campaign, the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom Party proposed to place a freeze on the integration of Latvia's 400,000 noncitizens and force all parties to speak Latvian during faction meetings. Both moves sparked outrage among Latvia's ethnic Russians.
Kalvitis, however, downplayed the possibility of any impact on relations with Russia.
Meanwhile, For Fatherland and Freedom is carrying along with governmental housekeeping. On Oct. 7, the party nominated sworn lawyer Gaidis Berzins for the position of justice minister and Jelgava Vice-Mayor Jurijs Strods for the position of economy minister.
The fourth coalition party will also receive several positions in Parliament, including the chance to lead commissions and represent Parliament's presidium. The latter seat will most likely be filled by Dzintars Rasnacs, said For Fatherland and Freedom faction leader Maris Grinblats. And Normunds Broks has been nominated for the post of special assignments secretary for cooperation with EU financial institutions.
As for the rest of government, People's Party members Oskars Spurdzins will stay on as finance minister, Helena Demakova as culture minister, Gundars Berzins as health minister, Artis Pabriks as foreign minister, and Atis Slakteris will retain his post as defense minister. Former economy minister Aigars Stokenbergs (People's Party) will become municipal affairs minister.
Among Greens and Farmer's Union members, Dagnija Stake will stay on as welfare minister, Raimonds Vejonis as environment minister, Martins Roze as agriculture minister, Baiba Rivza as education and science minister and Ina Gudele as special assignments minister for e-government affairs. On Nov. 7, Indulis Emsis was chosen as the speaker of Parliament.
The new government's first meeting was held on Nov. 8.