Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 183

According to virtually complete returns, issued yesterday, Latvia’s parliamentary election saw a high turnout of 73 percent of eligible voters. Six parties and blocs overcame the 5 percent barrier to gain parliamentary representation and share the 100 seats according to the proportional principle. International monitors pronounced the election “free, fair and democratic,” as summed up by the Finnish representative from the Council of Europe who headed the monitoring group.

–The People’s Party, with twenty-four seats, is dominated by the personality of its leader Andris Skele. Originally an agricultural specialist, Skele acquired massive holdings in Latvia’s food-processing industry and wholesale food trade during the privatization process. He was a nonparty prime minister in the coalition government from December 1995 to July 1997, broke with the coalition parties and went on to create the People’s Party (PP) in 1998. The PP was perceived as amply financed during the electoral campaign. It was also able to claim credit for Skele’s success as prime minister in overcoming a banking and budget crisis and relaunching economic growth. While in office, Skele waged an anticorruption campaign which soon turned into a campaign against political parties as such. He attacked the parties as inherently corrupt, fractious and inefficient. As a result, many party leaders came to regard Skele as a would-be authoritarian figure.

–Latvia’s Way (LW), with twenty-one seats, is one of the successors to the Popular Front, which had spearheaded the campaign for restoration of the country’s independence during the final years of the occupation. Party Chairman Andrejs Pantelejevs, a mathematician, was one of the charismatic leaders of that movement. LW leaders include incumbent Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, Transport Minister Vilis Kristopans–who is the party’s current nominee for prime minister–and Riga Mayor Andris Berzins, as well as former Prime Minister Maris Gailis and the former chairman of parliament, Anatolijs Gorbunovs.

–Fatherland and Freedom (and its ally, the Latvian National Independence Movement), with seventeen seats, is also a successor to the independence movement of the late 1980s. Fatherland and Freedom (FF) chairman Maris Grinblats was one of the top leaders of the independence movement. FF was the only major party to oppose some of the amendments to the citizenship law that were adopted by the parliament and confirmed by the October 3 referendum (see the Monitor, October 5). It promotes an accelerated transition to a free-market economy and switching Latvia’s trade from the Russian to the West European market. FF’s Guntars Krasts, an economist, has served as prime minister since August 1997.

–The People’s Harmony bloc, with sixteen seats, is made up of the identically named party and three Russian leftist parties: the Socialist Party, successor to the Communist Party; the Ravnopravie [Equal Rights] Movement, successor to the pro-Soviet Interfront; and the Russian party. Most of the bloc’s candidates in this election were local Russians or “Russian-speakers,” and its electorate even more so. The bloc is co-chaired by both former foreign minister Janis Jurkans, the figurehead, and former Communist Party First Secretary Alfreds Rubiks. The latter is barred by law from seeking public office. Using the rhetoric of human rights, the bloc aspires to turn Latvia into a binational state. It champions close relations with Russia and opposes NATO membership.

–The Social-Democratic Alliance (SDA), with fourteen seats, was not represented in the previous parliament. SDA expresses strong reservations about the free-market economy and appeals to the social groups hardest hit by the transition. The party advocates state intervention in the economy and social protection financed from the budget. SDA leader Juris Bojars is known to be a former KGB officer, who ultimately sided with the independence movement. Because of his past affiliation he is barred by law from seeking public office. Other SDA figures have been similarly accused, but without conclusive evidence.

–The New Party (NP), with eight seats, was founded in 1998 by a group of businessmen, Ainars Slesers being the most visible among them. The party’s formal leader, Raimonds Pauls, is a popular music composer and a former culture minister and presidential adviser on cultural affairs. The NP stakes the left-of-center ground in the political spectrum. When the Latvian government came under Russian attack, the NP sought to position itself as a promoter of good relations with Russia. The party equivocates on the subject of accession to NATO–a Latvian national goal. The NP favors state intervention in the economy and ties with both Russia and the European Union. Its economic views, however, seem inconsistent with EU membership (BNS, Radio Riga, October 2-5).