Central bank head finally resigns for politics

  • 2001-12-06
  • Jorgen Johansson, RIGA
Bank of Latvia President Einars Repse decided to hand in his resignation in order to pursue a career in politics with the new right-wing party he plans to found, New Times.

Repse has his eye on the majority of seats in the 100-strong Saeima (Latvia's Parliament) in the 2002 elections, a move that could net the banker the prime minister's spot and Cabinet positions for his new political colleagues.

"We're aiming for a clear majority so we can form a government. If we don't have this position, it'll be difficult to push through the changes we want," Repse said. "All parties have work to do in order to change their views on politics in Latvia. We all need to work more for the people."

But Repse's aspirations of political change have fallen on a few skeptical ears.

Peteris Tabuns, vice chairman of the For Fatherland and Freedom party, said he was doubtful the New Times party would be able to survive, having seen other new parties collapse early on in the past.

"If it's true Repse wants to do this for the good of the country then we wish him the best of luck. But history shows that several parties have been established in connection with elections and then disappeared without doing anything for the country," Tabuns said, holding Ainars Sleser's New Party, which flopped earlier this year after being created shortly before the 1998 parliamentary elections.

In an October poll, however, Repse's yet-unformed party netted 14 percent of would-be voters.

Despite exclamations of a clean slate, Repse has already run into more than a few speed bumps on the political highway, with both fundraising and ethics concerns already jarring him.

Repse's demands that he needed 500,000 lats ($800,000) for himself and 900,000 lats for the party even before leaving the Bank of Latvia for a political career caused a stir among current politicians.

"To ask the people for donations to start working in politics, not only for the party but also for himself, I see it as immoral. Taking into account the way he's entering politics, I view this with great skepticism," Tabuns said.

Repse has not made any concrete political promises or presented a clear party platform, but instead repeats his mantra that change in Latvian politics is necessary because corruption has gone too far and it's high time for honesty.

There is a risk, however, that Repse could get sucked into the very atmosphere of corruption he is so critical of, Tabuns said.

"These donations lead to a belief that he will be in the same position as all other politicians," he added. "Because the same circle of people are supporting him - bankers and businesspeople - we can assume that he, too, will be dependable on those who donate money to him."

While New Times failed to collect the required funding Repse said he needed to leave his banking position, the newly minted politician decided to make the leap anyway.

"If there are not enough funds, we'll just have to work more economically," Repse said.

Repse also added that while the 500,000 lats he was hoping for might sound steep, it would be a one-time payment for heading New Times.

But Arno Pjatkins of the People's Party, a member of the three-party ruling coalition in government, echoed Tabuns' concerns, saying that Repse's monetary requirements make him sound more self-serving than public service oriented.

"It doesn't look like Repse is interested in unifying anything. His present activity is based on self-centered economical politics," Pjatkins said.

Repse was also lambasted by politicians for getting started on the task of forming New Times while still at the controls of the Bank of Latvia.

"No other nation in Europe has such a situation - the head of the central bank conducting a political campaign," said Kristiana Libane, chairwoman of Latvia's Way, another member of the ruling coalition.

Even though Repse has formally resigned as Latvia's central banker, New Times has yet to become an official political party.

While his backers include Dr. Aigars Petersons, IT specialist Ivars Belinskis, neurosurgeon Baldis Keris, Jewish community leader Grigorijs Krupnikovs and businessman Andris Kreislers only about 60 people have publicly expressed interest in helping found the party.

Under Latvian law, 200 people are needed to found a party.

Parliament has not chosen a successor for Repse at the Bank of Latvia either, although the outgoing official did say he had suggested a name. The choice of central bank president rests solely with the Saeima.