Andris Skele resigned yesterday as Prime Minister of Latvia amid irreconcilable differences with the country’s political parties and in the aftermath of warnings by the main parties in the governing coalition that they were going to withdraw their confidence in him. The three largest parties in that coalition — the Managers’ Democratic Party (Saimnieks), Latvia’s Way, and Fatherland and Freedom/National Independence Movement — yesterday agreed on nominating National Economy Minister Guntars Krasts of FF/NIM as the new prime minister. The three parties further agreed to maintain almost unchanged the existing distribution of government portfolios among themselves and three smaller parties in the coalition government, and to renominate most of the incumbent ministers and those recently dismissed by Skele. The three main parties hold 54 seats in the 100-seat parliament. A simple majority is required for parliamentary approval of the new government. Krasts’ reputation is that of a consistent economic reformer. (BNS, Radio Riga, July 28)
Skele, a wealthy businessman without political affiliation, was drafted as prime minister in December 1995 by the coalition’s parties. Skele eventually lost patience with the complex workings of Latvia’s political system and displayed mistrust in the political parties as such. The parties, in turn, accused him of authoritarian ambitions. In May, the prime minister launched an indiscriminate anti-corruption campaign against the political parties and dismissed five ministers on poorly substantiated charges. Although corruption is as real a problem in Latvia as elsewhere in the region, the charges against the ministers were in most cases regarded skeptically, and Skele’s campaign was generally seen as missing the real targets. Moreover, Skele at times undercut the Foreign Ministry as he sought to project himself as the man capable of improving Latvia’s relations with Russia through economic ties. However, his public entreaties for an invitation to pay an official visit to Russia were cold shouldered by Moscow.
THE WESTERN REGION
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