Latvian government returns with majority

The Baltic Times
Elizabeth Celms, RIGA
2006. gada 12. oktobris.

Latvia”s ruling coalition has returned to power, winning an extra six seats and a stronger mandate in the Oct. 7 general elections, the first time a sitting government has won a second term in the Baltic state”s 15 years of independence.

The threeparty coalition – the People”s Party, the Greens and Farmers Union, and Latvia”s First Party/Latvia”s Way – gathered a combined 44.8 percent of the some 903,000 votes, which translated into 51 seats in the 100-member Parliament.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, a member of the rightwing People”s Party, commented later that voters opted for stability, as Latvia has been through 12 governments in 15 years.

“The newly elected ruling coalition is definitely good for Latvia”s political stability,” said Andris Runcis, associate professor of political science at the University of Latvia. “Fiftyone seats is not much, but it”s a sign that the government could work for a longer period, maybe even four years.”

On Oct. 9, the ruling coalition nominated Kalvitis to head Latvia”s new government. “The core of the government is formed,” Ainars Slesers, chairman of Latvia”s First Party/Latvia”s Way, said after the nomination.

Slesers added that, having already endorsed Kalvitis” candidacy for prime minister, political parties should start working on the new government right away. He also reminded reporters of his preelection statement that the new government should be formed by the winning party.

Greens and Farmers Union leader Augusts Brigmanis echoed this statement, saying that his party entrusted Kalvitis to form the next government.

When asked why his party supported Kalvitis” candidacy, Brigmanis said the Greens and Farmers Union was satisfied with the work accomplished in the previous government.

Runcis shared this opinion.

“The People”s Party and Kalvitis are definitely interested in a longlasting government,” he said. “Hopefully, the new coalition can last for two years, maybe even four.”

Since the current government only has 51 mandates in Parliament, which carries little political leverage, it would benefit from inviting another fourth or fifth force.

Representatives of the three government parties are currently holding talks with the opposition centerright New Era party and the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom as possible coalition partners.

Despite lacking the ruling coalition”s favor, New Era has shown the most drive to join. The party won 16.38 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results.

Party faction leader Karlis Sadurskis acknowledged New Era”s defeat in the elections, admitting that it was partly due to the “party”s own mistakes,” and partly to “an unfair [elections] game.

Although the party has adopted a more moderate attitude in recent months, it has been dogged by the lessthanfavorable reputation of leader/founder Einars Repse.

Still, there is a marginal chance for New Era. Repse has suggested that the three top parties form the next government, hoping to squeeze out archrival Latvia”s First Party/Latvia”s Way.

Asked whether his party would be ready to work in a coalition with New Era, Slesers did not rule out such an alternative. “We do not rule out this possibility, but this must be agreed on by the whole coalition,” he said.

“If New Era wants to join the ruling coalition, they will have to learn to compromise. And they”ve realized this. That”s why the party no longer speaks in black and white terms about “good parties” versus “dark parties,”” Runcis said.

But most believe that New Era has little chance of joining the coalition, given its combative style and holierthanthou attitude.

“This government”s ruling coalition will most likely be against New Era,” Runcis admitted.

Sadurskis himself even doubted that the opposition party would gain a ruling seat. “New Era”s position in negotiations on the coalition is not the best,” he said.

The nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK is the most likely contender to join the coalition.

“While working in the opposition the Fatherlanders, unlike New Era, have demonstrated a constructive approach,” said Janis Lagzdins, head of the People”s Party.

As for Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs” (Greens and Farmers Union) ambition to take over as Latvia”s next prime minister, the chance has been lost. Rather than support their own member for PM, the Greens and Farmers Union backed Kalvitis as prime minister. As a result, Lembergs will not take any post in the new government.

“The Greens and Farmers Union did not set Lembergs” appointment as prime minister as an end in itself,” Brigmanis said.

The longstanding mayor of Latvia”s oil transit city stands accused of serious money laundering and power abuse crimes. However, several candidates from the Lembergsled For Latvia and Ventspils regional party may yet earn seats in Parliament, Brigmanis added.

Kalvitis told journalists that representatives of the three government parties were set to launch negotiations on Oct. 11 and 12, with the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom and centerright New Era party as a possible expansion of the existing coalition.

The ruling parties met with New Era representatives as The Baltic Times went to press on Oct. 11, and planned to hold talks with For Fatherland and Freedom the following day. During the talks, parties are expected to discuss the new government”s main tasks, including longterm economic development, as well as Latvia”s tax policy and social budget, among other issues. They will also decide what parties will join the coalition, Kalvitis said.

According to the general election”s preliminary results, the People”s Party won 23 mandates in Latvia”s 100-seat parliament, while the Greens and Farmers Union and New Era will have 18 mandates each, Latvias First Party and Latvia”s Way alliance 10 mandates, and Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK eight mandates.

The election results were announced on Oct. 8, after the Central Electoral Committee said every vote had been counted in all 1,006 polling stations.

A total of 901,796 voters or 62.28 per cent of Latvia”s eligible voters cast ballots in the general elections, one of the lowest turnouts in years.