RIGA - Two of Latvia's political parties have merged. Latvia's First Party (LPP) has officially amalgamated with Latvian Way (LC). In addition, two smaller regional parties, Vidzeme Union and We Of Our Region have been absorbed into the new party's structure.
Despite the change in status into a single political entity, the new organisation will retain the name it used for its former alliance: LPP/LC.
The new party will have a joint leadership for a two-year period, with transport minister Ainars Slesers and interior minister Ivars Godmanis taking the roles. From 2009, the party will decide upon a single leader, who will then go forward as the sole nominee for the role prime minister, provided the party gains necessary support at the polls.
The two parties united to form an election bloc before the last round of parliamentary election in 2006 and comprises part of the current ruling coalition. As well as the two highest-profile members in Slesers and Godmanis, ministerial duties are performed by integration minister Oskars Kastens and children's and family affairs minister Ainars Bastiks.
Provided he can stay clear of further incidents such as the Jurmala vote-buying scandal of 2006 from which he extricated himself with some difficulty, Ainars Slesers should be the favourite to head the party from 2009. As well as a high public profile and some of the charisma generally lacking in Latvian politics, Slesers is again making his influence felt as transport minister, after a first spell in the post gained him a reputation for tackling the country's infrastructure problems by building new roads and expanding Riga airport.