Talks over new government begin in Latvia

Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma explains her decision to resign at the press conference. Credits: Prime Minister's Press Office

Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma explains her decision to resign at the press conference. Credits: Prime Minister’s Press Office

10 Dec. — The president of Latvia, Raimonds Vējonis, is beginning consultations with the parliamentary parties on the formation of a new government. The previous government stepped down on 7 December due to internal disagreements in the party Unity, senior partner in the ruling coalition.

Last year, when Laimdota Straujuma’s government first set to work, Europe Insight wrote about factors that could bring about her premature surrender of power. And the assessments have been proven entirely correct. Latvia’s six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union had scarcely ended when longstanding tensions between coalition partners and inside the Unity party came to a head.

The National Alliance, one of the two junior partners, began regularly taking its own positions (for example about refugees and teacher protests). However, the most striking manifestation of crisis tendencies was the resignation of Transport Minister Anrijs Matīss (Unity) in early November due to the development strategy of the national air carrier AirBaltic. At that time Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma directly demanded that he voluntarily resign.

This instance generated a wave of speculation over whether the whole government may resign. “When?” was the only question. No one expected that it would all happen within a month. The denouement came after the 5 December party congress, where it became clear that party leader Solvita Āboltiņa was now against the prime minister. The head of government was accused of having insufficient charisma and being unable to reconcile divergent interests.

At a press conference about her resignation, Laimdota Straujuma noted the accomplishments of the past year, thanked the ministers for their harmonious work and avoidance of “intrigues”, as well as recommended that the former interior minister Rihards Kozlovskis be appointed as the new prime minister.

The proposal of a practical heir momentarily provoked new, wide-scale discussion in the parties. “We are not a monarchy, where kings name their successors”, was the reaction of Āboltiņa (BNS), who herself wants to become head of government. However, the National Alliance opposes her candidacy. Juris Rozenvalds of the University of Latvia thinks that her appointment will only harm Unity and will not further the stability of the coalition (Diena).

The expert thinks that Kozlovskis has the best chance; he has not only received the recommendation of the prime minister, but also has considerable support among members of the ruling coalition.

Finance Minister Jānis Reirs is another candidate. His candidacy is supported by the Union of Greens and Farmers, another junior party in the coalition. In addition, a late-November public opinion survey for Latvian Independent Television (LNT) conducted by TNS showed that 24% of the population support businessman and mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs for the post of prime minister, and 17% support the mayor of Riga, Nils Ušakovs.

Nothing currently threatens the coalition itself. In parliament it has a comfortable majority – 61 out of 100 seats. Moreover, Solvita Āboltiņa speculated in an interview with Latvian Television (LTV) that the alliance may be expanded thanks to the parties Latvian Association of Regions and For Latvia from the Heart. In this case, negotiations about the composition of the government may drag on for quite some time due to the reassignment of posts in government.

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