RIGA - On Aug. 25, Latvia's First Party and Latvia's Way, along with two unknown regional parties, tied the knot and merged into a single political entity. The merger was supported by 589 members of the new party, while four abstained and none voted against.
The new party will be co-chaired by former Latvia's Way leader Ivars Godmanis and former Latvia's First Party leader Ainars Slesers for two years, after which the party will vote for a single leader.
The new party officially conjoins two centrist parties with varying priorities, often at odds with one another. They hope to be able to take the "best part" of both sides to create a broad-based centrist party.
"The new party will have a new program where we take the best part of the Christian conservatism and liberal ideas and values. These are individual freedoms on the liberal side and social responsibility on the conservative side. As we have defined for years, our first priority will be family and children, and a united society," Latvia's First Party press secretary Edgars Vaikulis said.
The unlikely merger also echoes a similarly strange merger of the Greens Party and Farmers Union prior to the parliamentary election in 2002. That merger, however, managed to strengthen its showing in Parliament in the 2006 election.
Latvia's Way and Latvia's First Party may not achieve such long-term cohesion. The two parties' viewpoints on issues such as homosexuality is starkly different. Latvia's Way, a self-described libertarian party, stresses individual freedom, while Latvia's First Party, which was founded by a group of Protestant ministers in 2002, believes same-sex relations are a sin and has not shied from speaking out against them in harsh terms.
Party members adopted an articles of association with the majority of 590 people voting for, one person voting against and two people abstaining. The articles of the party determine legal status, territory of operation, aims and basic principles, the rights of its members and other provisions.
The party has also announced that it will advocate a free-market economy and support businesses. Vaikulis said that while many members of the new party 's especially those coming from the two regional parties 's are former members of the People's Party, the new party will be more centrist than the right-leaning People's Party.
The two parties have been partners in a unified voting bloc since the new Parliament was formed last October.
The two regional parties that joined, Vidzemes Apvieniba (Vidzeme Union) from the northern region of Vidzeme and Mes Savam Novadam (We for Our Region) from the eastern county of Daugavpils, have also been closely linked to the two parties.
The new party will keep the coalition name LPP/LC.
Vaikulis explained that the party hopes that it will pave the way to more widespread consolidation among Latvia's political parties.
"We thought that we could become a stronger political force, and that could be the reason for other politicians, for other parties, to follow this way of forming unions in the political sphere," he said.
The decision to join the parties was made at an LPP/LC congress meeting held in the Riga Congress Hall. The highlight of the meeting was reportedly a speech by Godmanis on why the two parties should unite.
Four ministers will represent the new party in the government: Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis, Transport Minister Ainars Slesers, Integration Minister Oskars Kastens and Minister of Childrens' and Family Affairs Ainars Bastiks.