President shows he's no poodle

  • 2007-07-11
  • By TBT staff and wire reports
RIGA 's New Latvian president Valdis Zatlers launched his first official meeting with government ministers July 10 with what looked like a concerted demonstration that he does not intend to be subservient to the politicians who brought him to power.

"I will be straightforward and direct - we have to assess the whole process that has been going on for more than six months," the president said in the wake of last Saturday's referendum on amendments to national security bills.

"The essence of the amendments to the national security bills was not explained to the people. You failed to explain it to the people in a comprehensible language… the amendments were not debated in detail in public institutions and with experts in international organizations. And finally, the haste in which they were passed was unacceptable," he told ministers frankly.

He added that the had noticed the government's "blunder", which is why nearly 340,000 voters turned out for the popular ballot.

"In the future, it is necessary to take time in passing bills, and they must be explained to the people," the president continued, indicating that he will closely follow any future attempts to amend the national security bills and will demand that they be publicly debated.

"I hope in the future you will be able to explain your decision to the people," Zatlers said.

The president also called on ministers to work to increase political engagement in the eastern Latvian region of Latgale, which recorded the lowest voter turnout of all. "Latgale must be the same as all the other regions of Latvia," Zatlers said.

And he wasn't done yet. Moving on to economic matters, Zatlers urged the government to curb inflation and to closely follow the implementation of its anti-inflation plan. "Ministries must prepare interim reports with their assessment," he warned.

The forthright terms in which Zatlers addressed ministers will go some way to assuage the fears of those who assumed he would be little more than a political 'poodle'.

Coming from relative obscurity to the presidency in a matter of weeks, opinion has been divided on whether the new man has the political clout required to continue the independent spirit of his predecessor, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, or whether he would be a more subservient presence in Riga Castle. If he follows through on his first set of promises, he may quickly win over the doubters.