BOY WONDER: Zalans said his meeting with Zatlers, also a political neophyte, helped him gain experience in politics at the national level.
RIGA - It has taken Edgars Zalans, a small town mayor and the People's Party candidate for the prime minister's post, less than a week to learn some of the bitter lessons of politics in the big city.
Since being nominated to replace the outgoing Aigars Kalvitis, Zalans has drawn harsh criticism for a lack of experience, openly expressing distrust toward the media and taking leadership courses at a seminar of questionable repute.
By Dec. 11 the tempest growing around the 40-year-old mayor's presence was so intense that Kalvitis had to step in to chide the political neophyte.
If he became prime minister, Zalans, Kalvitis suggested, would have to do many things that he didn't like 's particularly participate in the weekly "Kas notiek Latvija?" political talk show, which Zalans has said is odious.
Diena, one of the most popular Latvian-language dailies, blasted the candidate for his involvement in what it considers to be a neuro-linguistic brainwashing program. The daily reported that Zalans had participated in a series of workshops and seminars run by the "Leadership Academy," whose affiliate organization in the United States had to close in the 1990s due to massive lawsuits after graduates fell into depression and committed suicide.
Pavels Romasins, founder and director of the Leadership Academy, was even quoted admitting that the workshop has elements of brainwashing. "Yes, it's brainwashing," he said. "But it is the best thing that could happen to a person."
On the Leadership Academy Web site there is a short video of Zalans talking about how the program helped him develop and improve himself.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the tabloid magazine Privata Dzive, Zalans said Latvian politicians had "gone nuts" and that Janis Domburs, the host of "Kas notiek Latvija?" suffers from "serious problems."
Zalans said that not only would he not participate in the show, which is the most watched in the country, but that he would encourage other politicians not to do so. The prime minister candidate also said he does read the press since he wants to rid himself of negativity.
Domburs fired back.
"It is already the seventh year that I have been working on a national level, but Zalans has been working on the national level only for seven days and has been a minister for a couple of months. It raises questions about the sense of measure," he told the Baltic News Service.
"In a free country, we are free to express our opinion," Domburs went on to say. "It is up to the public to judge which one of us has problemsâ€¦ The Latvian public now has a great opportunity to assess Zalans' knowledge of the situation in Latvia when he does not read the press."
By the time The Baltic Times went to press on Dec. 12 it was not clear whom President Valdis Zatlers would nominate for the position.
The opposition New Era party, which has been taking part in negotiations, said that it would not join any ruling coalition with Zalans at its head.
New Era Parliamentarian Solvita Aboltina was quoted by the LETA news agency as saying Zalans is a "symbol of [People's Party founder Andris] Skele's deeds." She also accused the party of "failing to understand the meaning of the recent national rally at Dome Square."
The three leading candidates for prime minister have stepped up their campaigns for the post through meetings with the president and interviews with local media.
In interviews with Latvian Public Radio, the three candidates were asked which hard decisions they were prepared to make if appointed to the post.
Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis, who has not been officially nominated by any party but remains a candidate, named three unpopular decisions he was prepared to make for the country's greater good 's raising electricity and heating rates, curbing borrowing and lending and slowing down real estate property development projects.
New Era candidate Valdis Dombrovskis said under his leadership the government would decrease budget expenditures, curb government spending at year end and liquidate job positions long left vacant.
Zalans, by contrast, would not name any specific difficult decisions he would make, instead saying only that the new "administration must be creative and able to function, not just rehash itself. Many things are merely being done formally."
Dombrovskis has called on Zalans and Godmanis to participate in a Western-style public debate covering a wide range of topics, but did not announce a possible venue or date for the event.