Coalition nears collapse as Repse fires Slesers

  • 2004-01-29
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Prime Minister Einars Repse fired his deputy Ainars Slesers on Jan. 26, creating uncertainty for the future of the ruling coalition just three months before EU accession. "Deputy Prime Minister Slesers has not been able to help me even in minor things. He has not been able to ensure the link between the government and parliament either," Repse told reporters.

Repse's press secretary Guntars Gute stressed Slesers' failure to bring in international investment, which was his core responsibility, his work against the political party finance law and against Juta Strike, a Repse appointee, as head of the anticorruption bureau.
The immediate cause of the crisis, however, occurred last week when Latvia's First Party, which Slesers helps lead, backed the formation of a parliamentary investigation into a series of recent bank loans obtained by Repse.
It was unclear how the situation would progress late on Jan. 28 when The Baltic Times went to press, with Latvia's First Party scheduled to meet to decide whether to pull out of the coalition.
Previously, Slesers had claimed that if he was forced to leave then his party, which controls 10 seats in Parliament, would also be leaving the coalition. However, Repse responded to this by saying he was ready to continue working with a minority government.
During the previous attempt to oust Repse from power, Latvia's First Party saw their MP Pauls Klavins threaten to switch parties, and the other two coalition partners - For Fatherland and Freedom and the Greens and Farmers Union - saw similar mutiny.
Repse's New Era, currently Parliament's largest party, controls 26 seats, while the coalition currently holds 55 seats. If Latvia's First Party leaves, the coalition will be left in a minority with only 45 seats.
One possibility would be for the remaining three parties to work unofficially with the National Harmony Party, lead by Janis Jurkans and that has 16 seats, to pass legislation. But this is a prospect coalition members For Fatherland and Freedom and the Greens and Farmers Union have both publicly denounced.
Indeed, part of what holds the shaky coalition together is that few alternatives exist. The only other center-right party is the People's Party, which is headed by Repse's archrival, former Prime Minister Andris Skele.
Tensions between Repse, who heads New Era, and Slesers erupted on the night of the EU referendum last September, when the head of Latvia's First Party Eriks Jekabsons told foreign correspondents gathered in Riga that Latvia was on the "brink of dictatorship," referring to Repse's alleged leadership style.
Some blamed the prime minister's personality for the current impasse.
"[Repse] is not a typical politician. He acts very emotionally," Aigars Freimanis, a sociologist at Latvijas Fakti, a polling group in Latvia, said.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga reminded reporters of the remaining work that still has to be done before NATO and EU accession later this year.