Following the collapse of the minority government of Vilis Kristopans (see the Monitor, July 8), Latvia’s three largest parties have agreed in principle to form a coalition government of conservative orientation. The coalition partners are the People’s Party (24 parliamentary seats) and Fatherland and Freedom (17 seats) as the conservative core of the government, in combination with Latvia’s Way (21 seats)–which has abandoned the Kristopans policy of alliance with the center-left. The three parties, holding a total of 62 seats in the 100-seat parliament, should be able to form a stable and lasting government.
President Guntis Ulmanis and others had urged just that course of action after the October 1998 elections, but the group which controlled Latvia’s Way thought otherwise. Aivars Lembergs, the mayor of Ventspils and a leader of business groups interested in Russian trade, was widely believed to be a grey eminence of the Kristopans government and of the Latvian Way party leadership. Lembergs’ public statements since the fall of that government suggest that he no longer wields such influence. Party Chairman Andrejs Pantelejevs and, particularly, party parliamentary leader Kristiana Libane seem to be the primary force behind the decision of Latvia’s Way to work with the conservative parties.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has mandated People’s Party leader Andris Skele to form the new government. Skele is one of Latvia’s leading private businessmen and a political rival of the interest groups clustered around Lembergs and Kristopans. Skele’s Ave Lat Group controls much of the country’s food-processing sector and some major shipping firms. Skele led two successive cabinets as a non-party prime minister from December 1995 to July 1997 when he lost out in a political battle with Kristopans and his supporters. In 1998 Skele created the People’s Party which placed first in the parliamentary elections. A coalition government of these three parties would correspond to the Latvian voters’ mandate as expressed in last year’s elections (BNS, LETA, July 9-10, 12).
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