Open coalition meetings draw curious crowd

  • 2002-10-17
  • Steven C. Johnson

For most Latvians politics has become a dirty word, and politicians make key decisions as they always have - behind closed doors.

Einars Repse said he was out to change that, and so far, he's made good on his promise.

After winning the general election Oct. 5, Repse's New Era party has insisted on keeping the doors open to the public during coalition-building meetings.

Scattered among the throng of TV crews and photographers at New Era headquarters last week were a handful of Latvians - some civic minded, some simply curious - to watch the sometimes delicate, sometimes heated government-forming negotiations between Repse and other top Latvian politicians.

Two days after winning the election, Repse held an open town-hall style meeting with fellow party members to outline the party's priorities and name proposed candidates for key ministerial positions.

"A fair number of our supporters have come, and it's been good to get to know them and hear how pleased they are to see this with their own eyes," said Peteris Vinkelis, an adviser to Repse.

The open meetings mark the first time Latvian parties have conducted government-forming talks in public since the country regained independence in 1991 and represent a key campaign promise from Repse, who ran on a platform of more transparent, less corrupt government.

For Elmars Bunga, a 70-year-old supporter who tries to attend all New Era's meetings, it's the proper legacy of glasnost.

"This is openness and it's the way it should be. Everything should be open," he said, adding that he thinks Repse is the only prime minister capable of tackling some of Latvia's most pressing problems such as raising pensions.

"Repse will bring order to things. He did it very well at the central bank."

"We've made it clear that anyone interested can attend," said Diana Kirse, a secretary at New Era's headquarters. "It's been mostly journalists, but there have been some people, most of them older, who are coming to all the meetings."

So far, Latvia's more seasoned politicians haven't seemed to mind the new format. But even Repse's closest allies wonder whether it can be kept up indefinitely.

"It's new, and it's been OK. We have nothing to hide," said Ainars Slesers, a leader of Latvia's First Party expected to join forces with New Era in a new government. "But we'll have to see how it goes when government meetings get started. Then, there may be things that have to be discussed among professionals, without spectators."