Zatlers on the spot as anti-government anger rises

The Baltic Times
TBT staff and wire reports
October 18, 2007

OVER TO YOU: Zatlers will have to decide whether to dissolve parliament

RIGA – With pressure increasing on Latvia’s ruling coalition government by the hour, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has acknowledged that a forthcoming parliamentary vote on the sacking of anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs will also decide his own fate.

“It’s hard, but I am strong,” Kalvitis said, adding that if parliament does not vote to dismiss anti-corruption bureau (KNAB) head Aleksejs Loskutovs it would force his resignation. Kalvitis added that a parliamentary “no” to the proposed budget on Oct. 31 would have a similar effect.

Kalvitis reaffirmed that the government will not recall its decision to let parliament have the final say on Loskutovs’ dismissal, as it would amount to an acknowledgement of its mistakes. Kalvitis stands by his decision to unilaterally fire the anti-corruption chief, despite criticism that in doing so he was exceeding his authority.

In a lengthy debate on TV show ‘What’s Happening in Latvia?’ on the evening of Oct. 17, the government wheeled out three of its big guns to justify the dismissal of Loskutovs. Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis and Education Minister Baiba Rivza all defended the government’s stance and deflected accusations that whatever budgetary irregularities had occurred within KNAB paled into insignificance besides the overspending and missing sums in various government ministries.

However, by the next morning Pabriks appeared to have performed a humiliating U-turn. Pabriks told the Baltic News Service that he would ask Kalvitis “to call off the government decision,” and consult with Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis, who also appeared on the TV show to confirm that he felt Loskutovs had been unfairly dismissed.

“The government’s decision on moving Loskutov’s issue to the parliament was hurried and inconsiderate. I have to admit that I have taken a premature decision by supporting our prime minister. The public attitude and study of the issue have changed my mind on it, public opinion cannot be ignored,” Pabriks admitted.

A telephone poll taking place during the live broadcast showed around 500 people in favour of or neutral about Loskutovs’ sacking, while more than 12,000 callers registered the belief that it was illegal and undemocratic.

By the morning of Oct. 18, several thousand people had converged outside Saeima despite driving rain to protest against the government and in favor of Loskutovs. Holding placards saying “Kalvitis go home” and “Game Over” they chanted anti-government slogans before retiring to Riga’s coffee shops to warm up, prompting some of them to dub their action “the cappuccino revolution”.

Latvia’s opposition parties are set to submit a letter to President Valdis Zatlers calling for the dissolution of parliament.

After a meeting between the leftist Harmony Center and the right-wing New Era factions, both sitting in the opposition in the Latvian parliament, New Era faction head Dzintars Zakis told journalists that signals from the people suggested that the present parliament had lost public confidence, and that the two opposition parties had therefore decided to petition the president.

“The situation is so bad it cannot deteriorate further,” Zakis said.

Janis Urbanovics, chairman of the Harmony Center faction, said Zatlers has to make up his mind whether he wants to be the people’s president or a “government assistant”. If the president cannot fire the government outright, he should at least initiate the dissolution of the parliament, Urbanovics said.