a strong stomach

  • 2002-09-26
In a healthy democracy, citizens should have access to a wide range of political views, no matter how silly or strange.

By that barometer, Latvia certainly qualifies. But a closer look at the cheap, pre-election populism that has dominated the campaigns of the mainstream and the fringe parties is not likely to make a disenchanted set of voters any more enthusiastic about their leaders.

Here are some of gimmicks we, and we presume most voters, have found hard to swallow:

---The Sacred....

White knight and savior Einars Repse is popular, so why talk about the dirty work of forming a government? And why did he ask for 1 million lats in donations as the price for his entering the ring? Well, it probably is easier to make headlines -- and votes -- by forcing his New Era party to swear an oath to country and creator at Riga's Dome Cathedral.

Ex-Economics Minister Ainars Slesers -- you're forgiven if you don't remember him -- is also on the Bible bandwagon with the Latvia's First Party, a group of clergymen. Slesers, for those who need a refresher, was last seen entering parliament on the right hand of that well-known Christian, Raimonds Pauls.

---....and the Profane...

After voters tossed him out four years ago, ex-Komsomol boss Ziedonis Cevers returned with the time-honored race card in hand. Happily, it seems his scare tactics and racist ads about black and brown refugees invading Latvia seem to have fallen flat.

---Men of the people

How to run against the government when you've been at the heart of it? For Latvia's Way and Fatherland and Freedom, the answer is simple: arm straight laced pols like Andris Berzins and Girts Kristovskis with shovels, send out to the field and, if possible, drape a Latvian flag from a nearby tree. At least it seems the Fatherlanders have finally realized that the "colonists" aren't going anywhere.

---Team players

Who said Andris Skele isn't a team player? But who can take seriously those super-serious campaign ads, with a pensive Skele being advised by Raimonds Pauls?

---Moscow calling

We thought Janis Jurkans had already hoodwinked enough ethnic Russian voters into believing his party actually has their interests at heart. Will sipping tea in the Kremlin with V.V. Putin himself really win him more? Call us optimists, but we think there are enough Russians here who might find this prank cause to abandon Jurkans for good.

---Big Brother

Ingrida Udre and Vilis Kristopans have obviously never read their Orwell - close-ups of their sinister-looking eyes are on posters for the Greens/ Farmers Union. Most Latvians, however, lived it. The farmers will probably have to learn the hard way.

---Forward into the past

The Social Welfare Party stands little chance of entering parliament. Maybe it has something to do with the horse-drawn campaign wagon they're using. They're against the EU and NATO, but they're all for returning to the good old days, when countries needn't have concerned themselves with the world beyond their borders.