Minority coalition formed, Emsis named new PM

  • 2004-03-11
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - A minority coalition took control of the reigns of power in Latvia on March 9, giving Latvia its 11th government in 10 years and Indulis Emsis the distinction of becoming Europe's first Green prime minister.

Former Environment Minister Emsis garnered 56 votes from the 100-seat Parliament, or nine more than the three-party coalition of the People's Party, Latvia's First Party and the Greens and Farmers Union control in Parliament.
The additional votes came from the center-left National Harmony Party, which in the absence of an alternative decided to throw its support behind the 52-year-old Emsis.
"We did not have any other alternative," Janis Jurkans, leader of the National Harmony Party, told The Baltic Times.
"Emsis promised to put first social issues, corruption and the integration process," he said. "Emsis has to start a dialogue with those that the education reform affects. If we do not start one soon, we could face a very serious situation," Jurkans warned.
The party did not, however, receive any ministerial posts for its support.
Emsis' confirmation came days after a last-ditch attempt by outgoing Prime Minister Einars Repse and his party New Era, by far the most popular in Latvia according to polls, to keep the center-right forces in power. Repse announced on March 5 that he had stepped down as the party's preferred candidate for prime minister in favor of parliamentary faction head Krisjanis Karins.
New Era went to great lengths to try to form a coalition without Latvia's First Party - now seen as a pariah among center-right parties for taking on five leftist MPs - even taking out advertising in newspapers warning that the left would now be able to decide on issues of national importance, such as education reform, citizenship and language laws.
While these gestures generated talks with the People's Party, it ultimately failed to bridge long-standing differences between the two center-right parties.
"Their stated opposition was to our leader, [but] when our leader stepped down talks still did not begin," Karins told The Baltic Times.
For the People's Party, New Era's abrupt decision to replace the controversial Repse with Karins was too little too late.
"We had more to lose than New Era by changing our minds the day before the confirmation vote. If we had entered into a coalition with New Era and For Fatherland and Freedom we would have been attacked by our former coalition members and our new ones," Artis Pabriks, a political scientist and People's Party board member, said.
"Karins lacked experience, although if they had told us of his candidacy earlier we may have been able to work with him," Pabriks said, adding that originally the People's Party wanted to have all five center-right parties in a coalition.
As things stand now, the three-party minority coalition lacks common ground, analysts said.
"This is a ridiculous, cynical governing coalition," Karlis Streips, a political analyst, said. "What remains to be seen is what price is extracted later," he said of the support lent by National Harmony Party.
Karins agreed. "This political union could have been due to financial interests," he said.
Indeed, many nationalists are irate at recent political developments, which include the first time in 10 years that For Fatherland and Freedom will not be included in the government.
The editorial pages of the daily Diena have been warning of left-wing influence on a new coalition for days leading up to the vote.
Meanwhile, the new Cabinet reflected the unique formation of the government, with Greens and Farmers Union member Ingrida Udre keeping her post as parliamentary speaker. (See table.)
It is rare that the posts of prime minister and parliamentary speaker - the two most powerful posts in the country - are held by the same party.
Latvia's First Party got back all the posts it lost when it left the ruling coalition on Jan. 28. In addition, former deputy parliamentary speaker and one-time minister Eriks Jekabsons will be interior minister.
"Whether a kickboxing priest will do well as interior minister God only knows," Streips added.
Many analysts have predicted a short lifespan for the minority coalition. Reliance on outside help for passing key items such as the budget will prove especially difficult when so many opposing interests are involved.
"This coalition has a lot of internal contradictions. [It] makes no sense," Karins said.