Irresponsible leaders

  • 2002-10-03
In the lead-up to this weekend's election, much attention has been paid to the public opinion polls that gauge which parties voters favor.

But recent polls have also shown that a majority of Latvians have been bored by the seemingly endless pre-election campaign and have little trust or faith in any of the parties vying for their support.

This is troubling, since the next government will oversee what promises to be a crucial period in Latvia's history. NATO membership appears to be right around the corner, and negotiations to join the European Union are reaching their final stages.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the next four years may well determine whether this country can consolidate the progress it has made. The next government will have to convince voters that EU is in their long-term interest. For every small producer that may feel a pinch in the early going of membership, there will thousands of Latvians who gain access to more jobs, better salaries and more educational opportunities.

That's why it's so sad to see yet another ridiculous and intractable scandal erupt just days before the Oct. 5 election. The row between coalition partners Latvia's Way and the People's Party about one's alleged spread of defamatory material about the other is silly and steeped in political score-settling.

It also points up why voters don't trust their politicians.

These two parties, both pragmatic, center-right forces that have done a reasonably good job of guiding Latvia toward the EU and NATO, should be concentrating on how they will continue this process in Latvia's next government since neither will win enough seats to form a government on its own.

Instead, a ministry controlled by the People's Party sends police to arrest men accused of distributing nasty bulletins about - you guessed it - the People's Party.

And because some of the detained are Latvia's Way campaign workers, Prime Minister Andris Berzins immediately fires his interior minister and demands an investigation into what he calls wrongful detention.

One may be forgiven for asking whether these poor Latvia's Way workers are the first Latvians to be wrongfully detained. The prime minister has certainly never been bothered by such cases before.

One might also be forgiven for wondering whether Interior Minister Mareks Seglins would have been quite so concerned about defamatory leaflets and invoking a rather draconian law about slandering political candidates had those fliers been defaming someone else - Latvia's Way, for instance.

When this country really needs responsible men and women, they are nowhere to be found. Is it any wonder 79 percent of Latvian voters, according to a UNDP study, have no trust in their government?