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Jockeying continues around ruling minority coalition

  • 2010-03-25
  • Staff and wire reports

RIGA - In trying to patch up the holes and keep afloat after the People’s Party abandoned ship last week, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era) asked Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins (People’s Party) to withhold his resignation and continue to fulfill the functions of his office until the appointment of a new foreign minister, reports news agency LETA. Following Andris Skele’s call for his party to leave the ruling coalition after Dombrovskis wouldn’t meet his demands to sign an agreement between both parties and to agree to work on Skele’s so-called economic revitalization plan, People’s Party Cabinet members were told to resign their posts.

On March 22, four People’s Party ministers - the foreign affairs, health, justice and regional development and local government ministers - handed in their resignations. The fifth People’s Party minister, Minister of Culture Ints Dalderis, quit the party and will stay on in his post as minister of culture.

Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way (LPP/LC) is considering beginning talks on joining the government. “I will invite the board to decide whether to start talks about possibly joining the government,” said party Chairman Ainars Slesers in an interview with the Latvian TV program 900 Seconds, reports Bloomberg. “We have supported this government in difficult decisions when it didn’t have a united opinion,” he added.
The First Party’s 10 seats would restore Dombrovskis’ majority in the 100-seat legislature after the People’s Party withdrew its 19 lawmakers. Slesers said his party wants to hear plans for creating jobs and reform in the state administration before joining the government.

The premier now controls 44 seats in the legislature with four unaligned deputies.
The First Party voted in favor of a mandate for the government to sign agreements with its international lenders on Jan. 21 while in opposition, helping the measure to pass after the People’s Party voted against it. Former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, a member of the First Party, was in charge of the government that turned to a group led by the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund for a 7.5 billion-euro loan after Parex bank failed.

Before making a decision on joining Dombrovskis’ government, LPP/LC wants to receive a specific action plan for the six months preceding the Saeima elections, said Slesers in an interview on Latvian State Radio. The LPP/LC leader believes that a minority government is not capable of acting, and that action is especially important in the pre-election period. As the main points in Dombrovskis’ action plan, Slesers mentioned the reduction of unemployment and creation of new jobs in Latvia, as well as appeals to people to return to Latvia.

One more essential point, in Slesers’ opinion, is reform of the state administration, which cannot be left until the elections. “This is an unpopular decision, but it must be discussed. A vision must be offered for Latvia’s development after the elections,” added Slesers. The LPP/LC leader said that negotiations would touch on matters including amendments to the immigration law and VAT reductions for several sectors, adding that the question of specific posts in the government would be the last point to be discussed.

Slesers does not believe that LPP/LC’s possible inclusion in the government could harm the party’s planned cooperation with the People’s Party. More pressing for both parties is the matter of involvement in a new alliance, the core of which is formed by the largest employers in Latvia. “The talk is not of bilateral cooperation between LPP/LC and the People’s Party,” added Slesers.

He stressed that the LPP/LC’s proposal to Dombrovskis was not impossible to fulfill. “It seems to me that our offer does not contain any kind of ultimatum; there is nothing [impossible] in it,” said the party leader. “If the board of LPP/LC supports the beginning of negotiations… we are ready for constructive dialogue,” added Slesers.
Harmony Center on March 19 said that it has no intention of joining the ruling coalition, and the possibility is not even being considered, Harmony Center’s Saeima group chairman Janis Urbanovics proclaimed after meeting Dombrovskis.
The prime minister said he hoped that the ruling coalition and opposition would be able to cooperate successfully in the work on the 2011 state budget and in talks with the international lenders. “We will have extensive consultations with the opposition for stabilization of the nation’s financial situation,” said the premier.

Finance Minister Einars Repse (New Era) cautioned that the People’s Party’s desertion of the government could threaten Latvia’s international credit ratings and reduce investor trust. He stressed that the major credit rating agencies had two important assessment criteria for Latvia - the economic and political situation in the country. Therefore this kind of situation could have an effect on the country’s future assessments.

However, despite the People’s Party stepping down, the work of the government is stable and things which have been begun will be continued. Repse stressed that the People’s Party’s desertion of the government once again showed that this is a party which shuns responsibility, and in such difficult economic times simply neither wanted to work nor take responsibility for its previous actions while in power.

The People’s Party was in power during the “years of abundance,” when it was able to take popular decisions, but now that times are difficult and a majority government is essential, the People’s Party is shunning its responsibility and does not want to work, said an indignant Repse.

The minister also said that good quality and carefully thought out proposals were expected from all parties for drawing up a plan for the consolidation of the 2011 state budget. It is already clear that without future help from the international lenders, Latvia will be unable to fulfill its obligations to its people.
The government coalition is currently made up of New Era, Union of Greens and Farmers, Civic Union and For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK.