Parties do battle to dominate council

  • 2001-05-17
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - More than two months after the Social Democratic Workers' Party scored a shock victory in local elections in Riga, the shape of the coalition that will rule the city for the next four years has yet to emerge. But the head of the Social Democrats' faction on the council, Janis Dinevics, is promising that all will be settled in this messy struggle, maybe as soon as next week.

The root of the problem, according to a leading political pundit, Karlis Streips, is that the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom Party, which won the third largest share of the votes on March 11, does not want to be seen working with the leftist bloc For Human Rights in a United Latvia, which campaigned on behalf of ethnic minorities and came a close second behind the Social Democrats.

But without a third party the Social Democrats and Fatherland and Freedom cannot command a majority on the council. The result is an impasse which has gone "way past silly," said Streips.

Fatherland and Freedom pushed through a motion, which took affect on May 5, abolishing the governing council - a cabinet of decision makers comprising the mayor (Guntars Bojars), the two deputy mayors (one of whom is Sergejs Dolgopolovs of For Human Rights), and the chairs of the various council committees.

Janis Birks, head of For Fatherland and Freedom on the council, said that the governing council has no basis in Latvian law on municipalities. Instead a presidium that would exclude the deputy mayors will be created at the next meeting of the whole City Council on May 22.

After that the way would be clear for the Social Democrats and Fatherland and Freedom to sign a coalition agreement, although Dinevics still does not rule out turning a cooperation agreement with For Human Rights into a full coalition agreement.

Janis Jurkans, president of the For Human Rights faction, said the dissolution of the governing council was part of Fatherland and Freedom's attempts to exclude his party from power. "We don't know what fair play is in Latvian politics," he said.

He considers his party, which as well as the deputy mayorship has won the chairs of two committees, to be part of the coalition already, he said.

Birks said that joining a coalition with For Human Rights would contradict his party's principles. He added that the party has evidence that members of the For Human Rights bloc do not have the Latvian language skills required of councilors by law.

"We aim to counteract the strongly leftist tendencies on the council," said Birks. "We were not absolute losers in this election."

Aside from ideological differences For Fatherland and Freedom is reluctant to openly join For Human Rights because of agreements it has signed with its partners in the national government, Latvia's Way and the People's Party.

However, a precedent for bending the rules has been created in the eastern Latvian town of Ludza, where For Human Rights has a coalition agreement with the People's Party.

According to Aivars Ozolins, a commentator at the Diena daily, paralysis has not yet set in on the Riga council, despite the lack of a governing structure.

"This year's budget has already been allocated by the previous council, so while there are various ribbon-cutting tasks to be undertaken the serious work is already underway. They won't have to strain themselves to get anything done."

Ozolins added that one election promise the Social Democrats are unlikely to fulfill is the restoration of the Riga-Stockholm ferry service, which, he says, would be prohibitively expensive for the municipality.