Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 204

Latvia’s new parliament convened yesterday, electing its leadership after complex bargaining among its six parties. These are: the right-conservative People’s Party with twenty-four seats, the right-of-center Latvia’s Way with twenty-one, the right-conservative Fatherland and Freedom with seventeen, the leftist and mostly Russian People’s Harmony with sixteen, the left-of-center Social-Democratic Alliance with fourteen, and the left-of-center New Party with eight seats.

The new chairman of parliament is Janis Straume of Fatherland and Freedom. Four other parties took one seat each on the parliament’s powerful Presidium, shutting out the election winner People’s Party, whose leader Andris Skele is unpopular with many deputies.

On November 1 Latvia’s Way, Fatherland and Freedom, and the New Party concluded an agreement to form a coalition government, again excluding the People’s Party. The three would-be coalition partners hold only forty-six seats in the 100-seat parliament and would need to buy the tolerance of the antimarket Social-Democrats. Latvia’s Way, however, seems prepared to pay a high price to secure the prime ministership for itself. Were it not for the coalition which excluded his party, Skele would have been first in line for the nomination.

President Guntis Ulmanis yesterday nominated Vilis Kristopans of Latvia’s Way as prime minister. Ulmanis did so reluctantly, after making clear his preference for a stable majority government of ideologically compatible parties–People’s Party, Latvia’s Way, and Fatherland and Freedom–who control a total of sixty-two seats. The president appealed to party leaders in the name of the national interest to transcend personal considerations.

Kristopans, 44, is the transportation minister in the outgoing government. A trained construction engineer and a former basketball star, now owner of a basketball club, Kristopans seems to favor a perpetual full-court press and shooting from the hip in politics as well. He has achieved a reputation for rash statements and confrontational tactics. Last year, Kristopans spearheaded a successful move to topple Skele from the post of prime minister (BNS, Radio Riga, November 2, 3).