Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 84

The coalition government under Guntars Krasts, caught between Russian pressure and an internal political challenge, won a key test yesterday. The parliament rejected a no-confidence motion against the government and then approved the government’s nominal composition, following changes negotiated in the last few days by Krasts and his coalition partners. The government won fifty-eight votes on the first motion and fifty-four on the second in the 100-seat legislature. The remaining votes were divided between those who voted against the government and those who declined to vote.

The test was forced by the left-of-center Saimnieks party, whose eighteen seats make it the single largest parliamentary party. Saimnieks withdrew its support and its five ministers from the government last month, at the height of Moscow’s political campaign against Latvia. Influenced by businessmen interested in trading with Russia, Saimnieks blamed Krasts and other coalition partners for the tensions.

The government responded by making agreements with other parliamentary groups and unaffiliated deputies, redistributing some ministries, and concluding a detailed agreement on government policies among the five coalition partners. These are: the Fatherland and Freedom/National Independence Movement alliance, Latvia’s Way, the Farmers’ Union/Christian-Democrat alliance and the National Reform Party/Green Party alliance. The NRP/Green bloc’s Andrejs Krastins, a former defense minister, is the new Minister of Internal Affairs, responsible for maintaining public order. All ministries will have undersecretaries of state for European integration.

The government-forming parties have signed an agreement to accelerate privatization, redouble efforts to join the European Union and support amendments to the citizenship law and language law in order to facilitate the integration of the Russian population in Latvian society. The parliament has already voted some of these amendments in the first and second readings. It is due to consider them shortly in the third and final reading, with account taken of OSCE recommendations.

President Guntis Ulmanis, currently on a visit to Italy, sent a special message urging the parliament to support the Krasts government. The president has had his differences with Krasts in the recent past, but rallied to the government’s support after it came under attack from Moscow. Ulmanis has pointed out that changing the government under Russian pressure would damage Latvia’s credibility and only invite more pressure. The government now seems firmly in saddle until the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 1998. (BNS, Radio Riga, April 29 and 30)