RIGA - The formation of a new government in Latvia was dealt a serious setback this week when New Era, Latvia's largest and most popular party, announced it would not work in a coalition headed by Indulis Emsis, the Green Party member who was nominated as the new prime minister by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga days earlier.
The 52-year-old Emsis is widely seen as a compromise candidate since he lacks strong views on a number of issues, and without New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom, which also stated it would not work in an Emsis-led government, he may be hard pressed to form a Cabinet.
"He showed he didn't have any definite views. Being a prime minister requires a clear program," New Era's parliamentary faction head Krisjanis Karins told The Baltic Times.
Emsis, who met with New Era officials on Feb. 20, took New Era's decision personally. "The situation is clear - this is an attempt to cause a national crisis, and it looks like instigated action," he was quoted by the Latvian news service Leta as saying. He said New Era was trying to force the president's hand to get her to call for new elections.
Emsis had been hoping to form a supercoalition of center-right parties that would be capable of mobilizing some 80 votes in Parliament. Still, he might be able to scrape together a coalition between the People's Party, Latvia's First Party, the Greens and Farmers Union and possibly For Fatherland and Freedom, which some analysts say could reverse its decision.
Currently three parties have agreed to work with Emsis, but together they only control 46 seats. For a coalition at least five more are needed.
New Era, which controls 27 seats, reiterated its stance that it would only enter a coalition under Einars Repse.
For Fatherland and Freedom, which holds the key seven votes for Emsis, is the only party supporting the outgoing prime minister. However, the party, which barely mustered the 5 percent threshold in the October 2002 elections, could still join the coalition, some analysts said this week.
On the other hand, For Fatherland and Freedom party leaders know that by aligning themselves with Latvia's First Party, which recently absorbed five leftist deputies into its ranks, the party could do irreparable damage to its image and alienate its core constituency.
"That is something that they are definitely worried about," Pauls Raudseps, editorial page editor at the Diena daily, said.
Another option - staying outside the coalition officially but lending support when needed - could possibly work for the For Fatherland and Freedom party.
Not joining the coalition "does not mean they cannot support the government in other ways," Aigars Freimanis, a sociologist from Latvijas Fakti, a polling agency, said.
One carrot Emsis could offer would be to let For Fatherland and Freedom keep the Defense and Transport ministry posts in the new coalition.
Otherwise, without both New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom, Emsis will not be able to form a new government, and the president will be forced to nominate a new prime minister.
This is what New Era is hoping will happen, since Repse appears capable of striking an agreement with the People's Party, which together with For Fatherland and Freedom would form a coalition of 54 seats.
However, relations between the president and New Era have become increasingly tenuous. The president did not nominate Repse again, and some friction has developed between Vike-Freiberga and Repse over his assertion that the constitution should be altered to give more power to the prime minister.
In addition the president condemned a recent effort to gather signatures in support for new elections in Jekabpils, saying it was a way for New Era to "pressure" her.
"Mr. Repse has already had 15 months to show what he can do," Aiva Rozenberga, the president's spokeswoman, told The Baltic Times. She called Emsis "a compromise figure."
New Era's Karins distanced his party from the signature gathering, saying they never officially sanctioned such efforts.
The polls indicate that New Era has suffered neither from the government's collapse nor Repse's intransigence. According to Latvijas Fakti, 24 percent of voters wanted to retain Repse as prime minister. Janis Jurkans (see interview on Page 22) came in second with 6 percent, while 28 percent were unable to say whom they would like to see as head of government.