Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 236

Some of the leaders of Latvia’s Way (LW), the party which heads a recently formed minority government, seem to be charting an uncertain path in internal and external policies. Although classified as a “right-of-center” party, LW has rejected the cooperation of the conservative election winner, the People’s Party. LW leaders now seek to bring the leftist Social-Democratic Alliance (SDA) into the government. LW chairman Andrejs Pantelejevs told a party congress over the weekend that “owing to the country’s economic problems, cooperation with leftist forces is vitally necessary even if we are accused of inconsistency or political prostitution.” Pantelejevs predicted “serious trials” in LW’s cooperation with its conservative partner in the coalition government, Fatherland and Freedom (FF), owing to various differences including the issue of relations with the SDA.

Fatherland and Freedom, for its part, regards the SDA’s program as incompatible with free market economics. FF continues to favor the participation of the fellow-conservative People’s Party in the government, as does President Guntis Ulmanis, in order to form a majority government of like-minded parties. On a further point of friction, FF calls for a credible defense budget, which Kristopans and the LW-controlled Finance Ministry have decided to slash from an already meager level. Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis of Fatherland and Freedom (formerly of Latvia’s Way) seeks to reverse that decision. He is now consulting directly with Ulmanis on the issue to muster political support for the defense budget.

Latvia’s lack of resolution on defense spending could adversely affect the quest for NATO membership of all three Baltic states. Baltic regional cooperation is now also being tested by Vilis Kristopans’ announced decision to introduce restrictions on some Latvian meat imports from Estonia. (Kristopans, currently prime minister, is a member of Latvia’s Way and was formerly Latvia’s transportation minister.) This has caused Estonia to urge Latvia to observe the existing agreement on free trade. Talks just held on the issue have ended without results (BNS, December 19, 21).